South Korea's top economic policymaker said Friday that the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be a boon for the country's tourism industry, coupled with recent improvement in relationship with China.
"Tourism is an important industry that creates more jobs than other sectors," Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said in a meeting in Seoul. "The Winter Olympics is about 100 days away and the improved relations with China will give fresh momentum to the local tourism industry."
The quadrennial sports event will kick off in February in the eastern mountainous region of PyeongChang. It is the first Winter Olympic Games hosted by South Korea.
The country's tourism sector has struggled for several months due mainly to security and political issues.
The Chinese government ordered its travel agencies to stop selling tour packages to South Korea in retaliation against Seoul's decision to install a U.S.-led missile defense system, or THAAD, on its soil.
As a result, South Korea saw the number of Chinese visitors plunge around 60 percent on-year every single month since spring this year. During the March-August period, Chinese tourists fell 61.3 to 2 million from 6.3 million tallied over the same period last year.
Last year, nearly 8 million Chinese people came to South Korea, with their visits generating growth in the retail and food sector.
Recently, the two governments agreed to put their relations back on track, which raised hope for a rebound in the number of Chinese visitors that can help local industries.
As part of a broader effort to boost the tourism industry, the government said Friday it will temporarily allow tourists from three Southeast Asian countries -- Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines -- to enter the country without a visa.
Under this plan, tourists in groups from the three countries will be allowed to come to the host city of Pyeongchang until April 2018 if they enter through the regional YangYang airport.
As for Chinese tourists, Seoul will allow an extension on the US$15 per person visa fee waiver for electronic passport holders who enter the country by the end of next year. The fees' exemption was originally scheduled to end at the end of this year.
In a separate policy meeting, the finance minister said Seoul will engage in renegotiations to amend the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States, with an emphasis of upholding South Korea's national interests.
"I will give policy priority to national interests and go to the negotiating table with the due process of law," said Kim. "Based on public opinion, the government will set a negotiation target for the Korea-U.S. FTA and consult with the National Assembly."
Seoul and Washington last month agreed to begin the long-anticipated process of amending the FTA, which took effect in 2012. The deal has been blamed by U.S. President Donald Trump for America's growing deficit in goods trade with South Korea.
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