[EDITORIALS]Look closely at trade team

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[EDITORIALS]Look closely at trade team

The latest garlic dispute shows us that the government's economic negotiation capability is in a deplorable state. When the Kim Dae-jung administration set sail, the post of the head of trade affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was upgraded to the minister level to give the agency more power. But the move was window dressing, without real effective machinery. Thus, it was inevitable that we would face the current consequences with a devastating loss of national interest.

According to a report drawn up by Representative Kim Seong-ho of the Millennium Democratic Party, the recent controversy over garlic stems not only from a misstep on the part of the South Korean negotiators at that time, but also due to the problem of the frequent reshuffling of negotiators, the negotiating delegation, which serves more like a protocol delegation, and a lack of thorough preparation. The legislator notes that the chief negotiators have been replaced in just 10 months and that the revolving door reshuffles damaged hierarchy. Expertise is not a requirement for the negotiators; the then-South Korean chief negotiator now serves as South Korea's ambassador to Jordan. The six working-level officials including the head of the Asia-Pacific Trade Department have all moved on.

Bilateral negotiations between South Korea and Japan over fishing is another case illustrating the lack of expertise and diplomatic skills.

The real power concerning fishing negotiations lie with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. For negotiations on shipbuilding with the European Union, power is shared by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Finance and Economy. The trade headquarters do not even have the powers to coordinate workflow and draft policy.

The musical chair reshuffling of personnel also deprives the trade headquarters of the ability to respond flexibly and speedily to trade disputes. The inability of South Korean trade negotiators is structural in that the internal reshuffles do not make sense, leading to the negotiators lacking a sense of mission. Meanwhile, the so-called "experts" are interested in paving their way to a political career.

It is time we conduct complete and thorough reviews on the trade officials who stand at the forefront of our national interest.

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