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Yoon vows to inject ample state funds to tame inflation

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President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the government complex in Sejong, Tuesday. Courtesy of presidential office

President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the government complex in Sejong, Tuesday. Courtesy of presidential office

President sends moderate signals on medical reform
By Nam Hyun-woo

President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday that the government will inject state funds indefinitely to stabilize the prices of agricultural and livestock products until soaring consumer prices are controlled and the public sees them stabilize.

The decision comes eight days before Korea elects lawmakers in the April 10 general elections, raising speculation that the rising prices of food, commodities and other necessities could hurt the public sentiment toward the administration and the ruling party.

During a televised Cabinet meeting, Yoon said the government "will inject emergency stabilization funds for agricultural and livestock products indefinitely and without limit."

"The consumer price for last month rose 3.1 percent year-on-year, remaining at a similar level from a month earlier," Yoon said, citing a Statistics Korea tally released on Tuesday. "Due to the [government support for] discount events and fruit imports, the inflation in agricultural prices slowed down late last month, but the prices are still hovering at a relatively high level."

Yoon said he is "heavy-hearted because the burden on the citizens has not been alleviated" and pledged to expand the government's support on discount events and fruit imports to small stores and traditional markets.

He also demanded that the Cabinet explore new supply channels to streamline the distribution process from producers to consumers, saying food price inflation deals the greatest blow to the vulnerable social classes.

Early last month, the government and the ruling People Power Party agreed to inject 150 billion won ($111 million) of state funds to stabilize the prices of agricultural products by compensating large supermarket chains when they hold discount events.

However, agricultural products, especially fruits, were maintaining their high prices. In the Statistics Korea tally, prices of agricultural products spiked 20.5 percent year-on-year last month, accounting for a 0.79 percentage point increase in overall inflation.

Of them, the prices of apples surged 88.2 percent, which was the highest surge since Korea began tracking prices in 1980.

And this has affected the ruling bloc's election campaigns negatively.

According to a survey commissioned by the Hankook Ilbo, sister paper of The Korea Times, voters in six battleground regions picked soaring fruit and other consumer prices as the most important issues they will consider when casting their ballots for candidates, casting a gloomy outlook for the ruling side.

The Hankook Ilbo survey was conducted by Hankook Research from March 24 to 26 on more than 500 voters in six battleground constituencies — Yeongdeungpo-A and Jung-Seongdong-A in Seoul; Hwaseong-B and Hanam-A in Gyeonggi Province; Buk-A in Busan and Gwangsan-B in Gwangju. Further details are available on the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission's website.

President Yoon Suk Yeol holds a bag of scallions during his visit to a supermarket in Seocho District, Seoul, March 18. Joint Press Corps

President Yoon Suk Yeol holds a bag of scallions during his visit to a supermarket in Seocho District, Seoul, March 18. Joint Press Corps

Cautious on medical reforms

During the Cabinet meeting, Yoon took a moderate stance on the government's ongoing standoff with doctors over his push to add 2,000 new slots to the annual admission quota of medical schools across the country, which triggered trainee doctors and other physicians to stage a massive walkout for more than a month.

"To successfully accomplish medical reform, bold financial support is essential, along with increasing the number of medical doctors," Yoon said, adding he was touched by the medical professionals' commitment when he visited a general hospital in Daejeon a day earlier.

He did not mention the 2,000 slots during the opening remarks of the Cabinet meeting, unlike his 51-minute address to the nation a day earlier, during which he spoke adamantly on the necessity of adding 2,000 new slots.

During the address, Yoon devoted most of his speech to rattling off research results on the anticipated shortage of medical doctors in the country, criticizing the prolonged walkout. However, at the same time, he added that the government will "discuss" the 2,000 slots if doctors propose a unified and rational plan.

Later on Tuesday, the presidential office said Yoon is open to holding a meeting with striking trainee doctors.

"President Yoon would like to meet with trainee doctors, who are directly engaged in the collective action , and hear what they have to say," Yoon's office said in a message sent to media.

Though Yoon's aides, including Director of National Policy Sung Tae-yoon, emphasized the possibility of adjusting the number of new slots in Yoon's speech, doctors responded negatively, saying that the address showed that nothing had changed from the government's side.

"All of the nation, including 120,000 doctors in the country, had hopes that the address would provide an opportunity to resolve the current standoff between doctors and the government," the Korean Medical Association said in a statement.

"The address, however, had no difference from the government's previous statements, which resulted in greater disappointments."

"We have been telling [the government] that most of the mentioned problems in the country's medical services can be resolved when there are interests and investments," it added. "However, we feel frustrated that the address reiterated the necessity of the 2,000 slots, which we have already said are not the right answer."

The Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union also released a statement on Tuesday that "the President's address had no plan for normalizing medical services" and "the public's expectation on the prompt normalization of medical services turned into disappointment."

Nam Hyun-woo


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