[FORUM]A New Trade Round Must Be LaunchedWhen I saw people in some countries cheering at the collapse of the twin towers in the World Trade Center as a result of terrorist attacks in the United States, I could feel a chill going down my spine.
It was not the crowd's approval of inhumane cruelty that horrified me. To my eyes, the terrorist attacks and the cheering were more than simple challenges to the United States, the economic and military superpower. They were challenges to the world economic order, whose vitality depends on expansion based on stability. If international exchange is swayed or intimidated by a handful of terrorists, that would be the exact result that the anti-globalists had in mind.
There have been signs. Since the terrorist attack, the international financial system has not yet been stabilized, and two of the three pillars that prop up the world economic structure have been shaken: The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank canceled their annual general meetings.
The third pillar, the World Trade Organization, seems to be considering canceling its November ministerial conference scheduled in Qatar. If the conference is indeed canceled, the world economy will face a catastrophe even bigger than the present sluggish economy in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the United States.
The ostensible reason to cancel the meeting is the threat of war hanging over the region. But there are more practical reasons for countries to try to avoid holding the meeting. The conference would launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations, and many countries are reluctant to reinforce the free trade system.
For a start, the United States would like to impose anti-dumping regulations on imports at its own will, but that practice would be curtailed in a new round of trade talks. European countries must sustain their agricultural subsidies for political reasons, but new trade talks may bring unwanted attention to the subsidy issue.
Developing countries have their own reasons to be less than welcoming of the launch of new trade talks. To the industrializing countries, completing the opening of their markets, as agreed in the Uruguay Round, is not an easy task. They have no reason to looking forward to a new negotiation that would certainly require them to further liberalize their markets.
Korea has stronger reasons to be reluctant. It is totally unprepared for the opening of its rice market, and if a new multilateral negotiation is commenced, pressure to open it would surely grow.
Thus every country quickly started talking about canceling the ministerial meeting after the terror incidents took place. But if the world's nations stop their steps toward free trade because of the terror attacks, they will achieve the very result the anti-free-traders would have intended.
The global economic situation is becoming eerily similar to that that prevailed just before World War II. In the midst of an economic slowdown, major trading countries under domestic political pressure overused unilateral import regulations, which led to trade disputes among powerhouses, which eventually ignited a world war.
The advanced countries have already stepped up their unilateral import regulations, and Korea is one of the victims of such moves. Most countries are also teaming up with others by concluding free trade agreements; Korea is the only country that is isolated from the trend.
The free trade system can be likened to riding a bicycle. The moment that you stop pedaling on the way to a free trade system, the bicycle will fall down to the ground of protectionism.
If this year's ministerial meeting falls through on top of the Seattle meeting's failure, it will deal a severe blow to the authority of the World Trade Organization, the guardian of free and fair trade. The world market will become chaotic, and the rights of less wealthy countries that have small domestic markets and depend on trade will not be protected from abuses by the powerful countries in the world.
The WTO ministerial meeting in Qatar must be held. The new round must be launched there. The new round is all the more desperately needed when the world is unstable as it is today.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chung-soo