(ATTN: ADDS minister's visit to nuclear power plant, port in last 4 paras)
SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new Industry Minister Bang Moon-kyu on Wednesday vowed all-out effort to prop up exports as a key economic growth engine and to restore the ecosystem of the country's nuclear power generation industry, his office said.
Bang made the pledge in his inaugural speech as he took office upon President Yoon Suk Yeol's approval of his appointment.
"I will do my best to expand exports that will revive our economy. The government will mobilize all resources and capabilities available," Bang said.
He called for strengthening the trilateral supply chain alliance with the United States and Japan and for making inroads into such new markets as the Middle East, ASEAN and Eastern European countries.
Private investment is crucial to boost export momentum, Bang said, vowing to ease regulations to attract foreign investment and global talent.
Exports have been on a steady decline since late last year amid aggressive monetary tightening by major economies to curb high inflation and an economic slowdown.
The government set this year's export target at $685 billion, up 0.2 percent from last year's total, though the finance ministry earlier forecast exports would mark a 4.5 percent on-year decline in 2023.
Bang also cited how to secure "super-gap" technology prowess in advance industries as one of his major policy goals.
"The government will carry out challenging research and development projects to lead state-of-the-art innovative technologies. We will ensure supply chains of our advanced industries through stronger cooperation with major nations," he said.
Speaking on the energy policy direction, the new minister said he will focus on a "realistic" energy mix based on nuclear power generation to better achieve carbon neutrality and ensure stability and efficiency in terms of energy supply.
"The ecosystem of the nuclear power industry is becoming more crucial for net-zero goals and energy security. I will strive for restoring the ecosystem at an early date and nurturing small modular reactor, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen fields as new industries," Bang said.
The Yoon government reversed the nuclear phase-out plan of the preceding government and is pushing to raise the country's dependence on nuclear energy.
The government seeks to raise the proportion of nuclear energy sources to 34.6 percent by 2036 from 23.4 percent in 2018, while renewable sources will be responsible for 30.6 percent of power generation in 2036 from 6.2 percent in 2018.
Upon taking office, Bang visited the Saeul nuclear power plant in the southeastern city of Ulsan to check the operation of the Saeul 1 and 2 reactors, and the ongoing construction of two additional units.
During a meeting with exporters and smaller firms in the nuclear industry, the minister pledged extensive backing, such as export financing, tax incentives and nurturing talents.
Bang also visited a port in the southern city of Busan, which is the country's No. 1 port for trade, handling more than 60 percent of the country's export-import container cargo.
"I will take the lead in addressing exporters' difficulties to achieve growth in exports this year," Bang said. "The government will come up with measures to innovate our trade structure so as to strengthen the competitiveness with longer-term perspectives."