As the dragon leaves so the snake arrives. The year of the black dragon (2012) brought with it a number of major issues and events in both Jeju and mainland Korea, starting with the controversial Korea-America Free Trade Agreement. The island was also hit by three major typhoons during the summer and drew world attention during the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in September. National attention was brought to the island in two major elections of the year: the 19th National Assembly election in April and Jeju’s part in the historic 18th presidential election in December. We now greet the year of the black snake and look ahead at the likely stories to dominate our island in the New Year.

Policy: Start of a new government

The nation’s 18th presidential election, held on Dec. 19, saw Park Geun Hye from the Saenuri Party become president-elect of Korea. Park drew 51.6 percent of support from the nation’s voters with a figure of 50.5 percent on the island of Jeju. Already well-known as the daughter of former president Park Chung Hee, she became the first female president in Korean political history. The new government will be sworn in on Feb. 25 this year and will serve for a term of five years. How will the new government’s policies affect Jeju?

Economy: Economic outlook

Jeju’s projected rate of economic growth this year is expected to be around 3.0 percent, one percentage point down from last year’s figure, according to the 2013 Jeju Economic Forecast Report. The forecast was announced by the Jeju Development Institute on Dec. 27 last year, which predicted a continued boom in tourism but warned of a slump in both the primary and construction industries.

Production will be down in the farming sector due to a poor mandarin crop and the reduction in farming area partly due to typhoon damage. The recently increasing number of unsold apartments is also expected to have a negative impact on the private construction sector, however this should be partly offset by the developments of Health Care Town and Resort-type Residential Complex in Seogwipo, said the report.

A general increase in inflation is also expected due to the current instability of international oil prices and the provincial plan to raise the water rate and sewage rate to the maximum 10 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively.

Agricultural Industry: Provisions for Korea-China FTA

The Korea-China FTA (Free Trade Agreement), which is currently under negotiation, has the potential to severely damage the Korean farming industry, according to a survey by the Korea Rural Economic Institute. The Institute says it expects that up to 162.4 billion won of damage will be felt in Jeju’s mandarin industry for up to 10 years after the signing of the agreement. The effects in the wider farming sector are expected to be harsher than that of the Korea-America FTA said the survey. This is because it is expected that China will not only dominate the vital consumer market of mandarin fruit but also other key farm produce such as potatoes, garlic, onions, cabbages and carrots.

To help Jeju farmers compete, the province will make available a fund of around 22.8 billion won for producers looking to invest in their farming infrastructure. The beneficiaries of this fund will be announced during January. In Seogwipo, where mandarins are a major part of the primary sector, City Hall officials have thrown their support behind mandarin farmers. They announced on Dec. 26 last year that the 2013 Seogwipo Mandarin Fair and Festival will be held in December of this year, before the first Jeju Mandarin World Exposition in 2014. This year’s event will make available exhibitions for mandarin companies and include a seminar to be given by mandarin experts.

Culture: Festivals for the year

Following the Seongsan Sunrise Festival on New Year’s Day, there are a number of other Jeju festivals on the list for tourists and locals to enjoy. Those who want to plunge into the winter sea should come to Penguin Swim in Seogwipo on Jan. 5. The chill will be taken from the air at the Jeju Fire Festival (March 8 to 10 at Saebyeol Oreum in Jeju City) under the first full moon of the Lunar Calendar. When spring arrives on Jeju, the island is full of the colors of flowers. This will inevitably lead people to the Yuchae Flower Festival and the Cherry Blossom Festival (in April). Small islands on the coast of Jeju Island also come alive in April during the Gapado Barley Festival, the Udo Sora (Turban Shell) Festival, and the Chujado Yellow Corvina Festival (June).

However, the most lively festival season is summer. Music will come to Samyang Black Sand Beach, Hamdeok Seoubong Beach, and Iho Tewoo Beach in Jeju City and Pyoseon Haevichi Beach and Soesokkak in Seogwipo (July or August). The Jeju International Wind Ensemble Festival is also a large annual August festival in Tapdong Square, located close to the sea in downtown Jeju City.

In September, many festivals focus on the folk culture of Jeju. Among them are Seogwipo’s biggest: the Chilsimni Festival, as well as the Haenyeo (Jeju women diver) Festival, the Deoksuri Traditional Folk Festival (which is famous for the Jeju’s unique ironware making craft) and the Jeonguigol Folk Festival in Seongeup Folk Village. Then the autumn peak can be seen around the Jeju Olle Trails (map) at the Jeju Olle Walking Festival (October and/or November) and the returning winter will be warmed up at the Jeju Onggi Kiln Festival (December).

Education: Free lunches at elementary school and middle school

Starting from the new school semester on March, all elementary school and middle school students in Jeju, except Jeju National University Elementary School, will be offered free lunches. Currently, a free lunch system has been available at elementary schools, middle schools in the eup (town) and myeon (district) and special education schools for the handicapped. However the benefit was limited to only middle school third graders in downtown neighborhoods. Under the new system though, all students will be the beneficiaries of a free lunch service. The expense will be covered under the budget of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and the Provincial Office of Education. However the service will not cover the Jeju National University Elementary School for the present, as Jeju National University, which covers 25 percent of the expense, is still in the process of drawing up its budget.

International tourism: Tourism on the increase

This year the tourism industry is expected to continue riding high following last year’s success of attracting 9.7 million tourists — 8 million from within the nation and 1.7 million from abroad. Jeju Special Self-Governing Province has set the new goal of greeting 10.5 million tourists to the island this year. If this is achieved it will be an 8.3 percent increase compared to last year. This goal includes attracting 2.2 million from abroad, a 29.4 percent increase from the previous year, which if passed will see Jeju’s original goal of attracting 2 million foreign tourists by 2014 one year earlier than expected.

The goal involves factors like the completion of the full course of the Jeju Olle Trail, designation of Hangeul (Korean alphabet) Proclamation Day (Oct. 9) a holiday from this year and 191 international cruise entries per year into the Jeju cruise passenger terminal. If the goal is reached it will have more than doubled the number of cruise visits from last year. According to the province, it also plans to increase the number of direct flights from abroad from the existing 36 to 40, as well as supporting an increase from eight to 10 cruise ship lanes.

Nature: After WCC

After successfully holding the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in the International Convention Center Jeju in September last year, Jeju’s next assignment is following through on the five motions that were passed by the vote of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) members. The motions are: Hanon Maar crater restoration and conservation; establishment of an integrated management system for UNESCO protected areas on the island; development of World Environment Hubs and establishment of the Evaluation and Certification System; supporting the sustainability of Jeju haenyeo and support for conservation and sustainable use of Gotjawal forests. Among suggestions for follow-up action: putting forward the motions as a national project, providing an institutional strategy and establishing an office to take charge of the work.

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