Underscoring the war-room style of the gathering, officials met in a bunker at the Blue House in Seoul, the official presidential residence, a spokesman told reporters.

During the meeting Lee told officials the country was in urgent need of "pre-emptive measures" to stimulate economic growth, Lee Dong-kwan, a Blue House spokesman, said.

South Korea relies heavily on exports as a key pillar of its economy [GALLO/GETTY]
Last week data for December showed South Korean exports slumping by 17.4 per cent compared to a year earlier.

On Thursday the South Korean finance ministry said it expected exports for January would drop even further.

South Korea is heavily dependent on exports, but global demand has plummeted with analysts forecasting that could cause the South Korean economy to shrink by up to three per cent in 2009.

Taiwan export slump

Elsewhere in Asia there was more gloomy news from Taiwan, which reported exports plunging a record 42 per cent in December.

The slowdown has gripped Taiwan with alarming speed – as recently as August export growth was still being measured in double digit figures.

Like South Korea, exports are a key pillar of Taiwan's economy.

Meanwhile, the island's unemployment rate has jumped to a five-year high and many workers find themselves becoming semi-employed as manufacturers force staff to take unpaid leave for up to three days a week.

On Thursday Taiwan's benchmark share index slumped by 5.3 per cent following the release of the latest export figures.