(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with post-meeting briefing, other details; CHANGES headline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Thursday raised the need to expand the government's investment in the construction sector in a bid to help revitalize the economy.
He also said it is important to accelerate expansionary fiscal policy in response to the deepening problems facing Asia's fourth-biggest economy.
"Now is the time to concentrate power on the economy and the people's living," he stressed at the outset of a rare separate meeting with his economy team.
It was held at the government office complex in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, with Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, who doubles as deputy prime minister for the economy, absent, as he was on a visit to the United States for Group of 20, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings.
The session was not included in the president's weekly schedule open to Cheong Wa Dae press corps in advance. On Wednesday afternoon, Cheong Wa Dae suddenly announced Moon's plan to hold the meeting.
Four main issues were discussed -- the recent economic situation, employment-related data, a 52-hour workweek system and African swine fever -- according to Cheong Wa Dae.
Earlier this week, the IMF slashed its growth forecast for South Korea's economy this year to 2 percent from its previous outlook of 2.6 percent.
The Bank of Korea lowered the main policy rate to 1.25 percent Wednesday amid worries about the possibility of deflation.
Moon reiterated that South Korea, like many other countries, is suffering economic troubles due to such external factors as trade disputes and the sharp shrinking of the global manufacturing sector.
He was apparently undaunted by attacks from political opponents, who claim that the government's "wrong" economic policies are one of the main culprits behind the nation's current economic difficulties. They have urged the Moon administration to change tack.
Above all, he stressed, enhancing the civilian sector's vigor is necessary to boost the economy.
"In order to ride out the declines in exports and investment, attributable to a global economic slowdown, the government should provide more support for exporting companies and play an active role in promoting private investment," Moon said.
He said the government plans to increase investment in the construction sector, while sticking to the principle of avoiding a campaign to "artificially stimulate" it.
The government will have to advance the planned supply of houses for low- and middle-income people and begin the construction of planned metropolitan transportation networks at an early date, he added.
Moon also vowed to increase public investment in social overhead capital connected with the livelihood of the people.
"When the economy is in difficulty, it's a must do for the government to expand fiscal spending to reinforce the economy and inject a vigor into the economy," he emphasized.
With regard to the results of the session, a Cheong Wa Dae official said the participants agreed on the need to map out measures to minimize the possible negative impact of the introduction of shorter working hours at firms with 50 to 299 workers at the start of next year.
On employment, the president also described reductions in the number of jobs for those in their 40s and manufacturing businesses as "the most painful part," the official added.
Asked if Moon's remarks on the construction field signal a change in the government's related policy, the official said no.
"The president was talking about the need to put forward the construction of new houses, which is already planned, the official told reporters.
It was Moon's first separate gathering with economy-related ministers since he presided over an "expanded meeting" with them at Cheong Wa Dae last December.
Moon's move is seen as reflecting his resolve to oversee economic affairs in detail and in person amid growing concerns about his economic record, in particular ahead of the general elections next spring.