[EDITORIALS]Criticism Worth Heeding

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[EDITORIALS]Criticism Worth Heeding

As the economy continues to slow, foreign business executives have becoming increasingly vocal about the problems they see in Korea. Even considering the external shocks that were beyond our control, such as the terror attacks in the United States, the trouble that our economy is going through can be traced back to slumping exports and capital investment by businesses and the lagging growth in global competitiveness of our businesses and products. We would be well advised to heed much of what businessmen from abroad are telling us.

At a gathering Tuesday attended by the president of the opposition Grand National Party, Lee Hoi-chang, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, Jeffrey Jones, said that Korea is in a crisis in terms of its economy, leadership and competitiveness. The meeting brought together more than 100 foreign business leaders to discuss improvements needed in the Korean economy as seen from the foreign business point of view. The foreign executives at the meeting joined Mr. Jones in calling for greater transparency in management practices and flexibility in the labor market.

Mr. Jones said that regulation in Korea remains at a suffocating level, and stressed that relaxation of these conditions are critical if Korea is to raise its competitiveness. The statement reflects the reality that our government has been busy talking but has yet to come up with practical measures that can stimulate business investment.

One thing we have seen for ourselves is the interminable discussions and disagreements between political parties and even between different government ministries over proposals intended to invigorate the business climate, including the plan to relax restrictions on conglomerates' equity investment and plans to expand tax benefits.

Foreign businesses operating here are not free from the tight and dense web of business regulations. The president of the Seoul Japan Club, Masahide Yano, called for an improvement in conditions for business investment, and that represents the general view of foreign businesses in Korea.

The simultaneous slowdown in the world economy does offer a discouraging backdrop, but unfavorable local conditions caused the sharp decline in foreign investment in the country. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy has reported that foreign direct investment in October dropped by 24 percent compared with the same period a year ago, with cumulative investment through the end of October at $11 billion, also down by nearly 10 percent.

The comments by the former Korea First Bank CEO, Wilfred Horie, are also alarming. In his view, responsibility for our recent economic performance does not rest solely with the bureaucracy.

Closing his nearly two years of residence in Korea, Mr. Horie had stinging remarks for our lawmakers and journalists, who he said failed to live up to their responsibility to help the economy. He said that lawmakers in Korea are people who make busy businessmen wait for hours and then fall asleep or repeat the same questions. Journalists, for their part, base their writing more on emotion than on facts, he said.

Granted that the foreign executives are basically businessmen who come with a distinct set of interests in their observation of Korea, if we are to recognize the urgency in turning our economy around, not a word of what they say should be taken lightly.
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