The government is renewing its efforts to advance the service industry. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has disclosed a new action plan that called for, among other things, a basic law on the promotion of the service industry, the introduction of for-profit hospitals and allowing sales of nonprescription drugs at supermarkets and convenience stores.
The renewed push for the service sector is welcome. The Korean economy is facing an urgent need to develop the service sector as it can help the nation create more decent jobs, boost domestic demand, attain a more balanced growth and ease economic polarization.
However, it is unclear how far the government would be able to go in implementing the action plan. Since 2008, the incumbent government has already unveiled five service industry promotion plans. But little progress has been achieved thus far.
The main reasons for the lack of headway include never-ending conflicts between the relevant ministries, the resistance from the interest groups involved, and the failure of the National Assembly to act on proposed bills.
For instance, the introduction of for-profit hospitals has been promoted for several years but has not been realized yet due mainly to the opposition from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and small hospitals. The ministry argues that the nation cannot allow profit-oriented hospitals before it expands the health care system for the underprivileged.
On Tuesday, however, Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun, who is a strong advocate of introducing corporate-style hospitals, reiterated his call for efforts to open up the medical service sector to private investment and foreign medical institutes.
Yoon also called on government agencies and ministries to bend over backwards to ensure the passage of service sector-related bills, especially those regarding medical services and education, within this year.
For the passage of the proposed bills, the government should first ensure that ministries resolve differences among themselves. Otherwise, its call for action will again end up as an empty slogan.