Impact Player: Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong

Informing audiences about key policy makers in issue areas of importance to U.S.-Korea relations.

Who is he?
On July 30, 2017, Kim Hyun-chong was appointed as the Trade Minister of the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy (MOTIE). He will be the head of the Ministry’s Office of International Trade and Investment.

Prior to this appointment, Kim served on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body. During his career Kim has worked in government, the private sector, multilateral organizations and academia. In 2003, he joined the Republic of Korea (ROK)’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as deputy trade minister where he played a central role in the formulation of South Korea’s trade policy. From 2004 to 2007, as the ROK’s trade minister, he spearheaded over 40 free trade deals with key partners. Kim is noted in particular for his leadership during negotiations with the U.S. that culminated in the signing of the KORUS FTA in June 2007. From July 2007 to May 2008, Kim served as the ROK’s ambassador to the United Nations. His term coincided with North Korea’s decision to begin disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and reopen to international inspections.

Kim was appointed president and chief legal officer at Samsung Electronics in 2009. In this role, he led and developed the multinational electronics corporation’s intellectual property strategy, and oversaw patent and trade litigation. Between 1999 to 2003 Kim was a senior lawyer at the WTO’s Appellate Body Secretariat and Legal Affairs Division.  In the academic realm, Kim taught international trade at Hongik University in Seoul from 1993 to 1998, and most recently at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Kim received his B.A. (1981) and M.A. (1982) in Political Science from Columbia University, and a J.D. (1985) from Columbia Law School in New York.

Why has he been in the news?
Cheong Wa Dae announced the appointment of Kim Hyun-chong as the Trade Minister on July 30, 2017. In a press briefing, Yoon Young-chan, the Presidential Secretary for Public Relations, noted Kim’s expertise on negotiating trade deals, such as the KORUS free trade agreement, as a key reason for Kim’s appointment. As Trade Minister, Kim will oversee the MOTIE’s Office of International Trade and Investment. This office serves as the MOTIE’s trade bureau to ultimately allow the ministry to “better respond to free trade deals.” This new office was created as part of a government reorganization plan that was approved by the National Assembly on July 20. This bill included provisions such as creating a new ministry in charge of facilitating growth of small and medium sized businesses (SME’s) and restructuring existing ministries.

What can we expect from him?
Kim is expected to play a key role in the renewal and potential renegotiation of the KORUS Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Based on his earlier public service as a trade minister for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2008, Kim made an impact on several South Korean free trade agreements. Media sources report that Kim’s appointment suggest South Korea moving closer to issuing an official response to the U.S. President Donald Trump’s push for a FTA renegotiation to establish a more mutually beneficial agreement.

In his inaugural speech on August 4, 2017, Kim promised to “make efforts consistently and aggressively to strike a balance in terms of shared benefits with our major trading partners.”

Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Image

David Sungjae Hong

Research Intern, Korea Chair

Mathew Ha

Research Intern, Korea Chair