[FORUM]How to Negotiate Free Trade Effectively

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[FORUM]How to Negotiate Free Trade Effectively

The season of free trade has arrived. Strictly speaking, the season when we frequently hear cries for free trade has arrived. The cry for free trade is one thing, the realization of it is quite another.

Every autumn, national leaders hold feasts of arguments for free trade, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. This autumn is no exception.

This autumn's feast was special. The APEC summit reiterated their commitment to the Bogor Declaration of 1994, when APEC nations declared their commitment to free trade. According to the plan, the developed economies among APEC countries should remove all barriers to trade and investment no later than 2010, and developing economies no later than the year 2020. It is an incredible schedule.

Most countries regard Korea as a developed country. Is there anyone who thinks that it is possible for Korea to open all markets, including the agricultural market, by 2010?

The APEC summit also agreed to launch a new round of free trade talks, which would be similar to the notorious Uruguay Round, at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, which opened Friday.

A few days ago, China agreed with the Association of South East Asian Nations to conclude a free trade pact. It took 15 years for China to obtain WTO membership and it will be laborious enough for China to implement its promise to lift the import restrictions necessary for WTO membership. It is doubtful that the country will be able to remove trade barriers with ASEAN in 10 years.

President Kim Dae-jung also proposed a free trade zone in East Asia covering Korea, China and Japan. The other two nations agreed.

Those proposals are good, because they could provide a way for the global economy to escape from the current slump. But the plans are not credible. If we look back on our track record in trade, we feel it difficult to tell other countries, "Let's negotiate free trade." Moreover, there are no further trade issues to be negotiated because it is almost impossible for us to open our markets further.

Though it faces the launch of a new round, Korea's Trade Ministry has never received guidelines for trade negotiations from the president or from the public. The ministry is only afraid that an issue that we want to avoid, such as additional access to agricultural markets, will be placed on the negotiating agenda.

The condition is exactly the opposite in the United States. The United States Trade Representative takes an attitude in all the trade negotiations, because the Congress supports the agency. The Congress gives the authority for trade negotiations and "guidelines from the public" about the negotiations to the president. Regarding an issue on which the national interest depends - and the United States sees trade as such an issue - both the ruling and the opposition parties adjust their views and produce a unified set of guidelines for American negotiators.

In the current situation in Korea, it is obvious what will happen. Until the end of the trade negotiations, the public will not know that Korea will have no choice but to open its rice market. Then representatives of Korean farmers will demonstrate in front of the WTO headquarters. As for the Korean negotiators, the media will call them idiots and the National Assembly will brand them as betrayers of the country. Finally, the economic team in the administration, including the deputy prime minister, will be replaced. If the Trade Ministry's leaders and working-level officials do not have very thick skins, their work will be very difficult.

With protectionist sentiment aroused here, even trade negotiations that Korea initiated, such as investment negotiations with the United States and Japan and talks with Chile for a free trade pact, will become deadlocked and fail. Then, the status of the negotiators in those deals will be very precarious. Trade experts, who know how precarious their position is, are already leaving the ministry.

The National Assembly should intervene. It should give trade negotiating rights to the president so that our Trade Ministry takes an active attitude in the upcoming trade negotiations.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chung-soo

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