[OUTLOOK]Caution, government restructuring

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[OUTLOOK]Caution, government restructuring

After closely observing the recent controversy over Korea's safeguard against Chinese garlic set up two years ago and the government's measure presented hurriedly to appease the farmers, I can't help but stress again the necessity to strengthen the planning and coordination of government policies.

In 1998, I proposed that the reform of a government organization is inevitable in order to strengthen the function of a government to plan and control economic policy at a comprehensive and macroscopic level.

For a government organization to work in an efficient manner and adapt to role changes, that government and its organizational structure must change.

Therefore, the government should start its restructuring work by weeding out unnecessary roles so that the government can attend to the demands of the new changes that are expected both home and abroad.

Years ago the British economic expert John Maynard Keynes said it is important for economic experts to differentiate between what a government's role is and what is unnecessary.

Today we are living in a world where politics and the circumstances of society are more complicated and diverse.

In such a diverse society with complicated interests, a government should first present a developmental strategy and a long-term vision for a nation. And to proceed with developing such strategic planning the government should strengthen its skills in drawing up plans.

In addition, it is important to strengthen skills to control governmental policy, which is to coordinate conflicts between various interest groups as well as ease friction within government departments.

Let's look at the garlic trade dispute that occurred in 2000. At the time, China had not yet joined the World Trade Organization and therefore, when the Korean government launched a safeguard against imported Chinese garlic, the measure could have caused severe retaliation from China against our exports.

Additionally, as a member of the World Trade Organization, our government, which had to abide by the rules of the organization, was not in the position to stubbornly insist on temporary measures like safeguards against imported agricultural products while pushing aside structural problems within our agricultural sector.

Therefore, if the government had a department that specialized in planning and controlling policies with systemic support and administrative power, it could have established a trade strategy that would have avoided the conflict with China.

The strategy could have also provided a longer-term restructuring plan for the agricultural sector, along with a short-term plan for compensating garlic farmers for their loss of income.

But in reality, things did not turn out the way we would have desired. Thus, a trade dispute over imported garlic flared up between the two countries.

And as a result of the friction our government, which did not want to stick to a small interest and sacrifice the bigger benefits of trade with China, was forced to concede more than necessary at the negotiations with China. The result? Our national image was greatly damaged by those concessions.

Moreover, many people were worried because the government presented an agricultural sector support plan that focused on strengthening short-term government support in order to stabiliz farm product prices which would not boost farmers' income because it would delay the repair of the structural problems of the industry.

There are other examples where our country has had to tolerate large national losses because of conflicts of interest within the government, as well as conflicts with other nations that could not be properly contained or controlled.

One example is the problem surrounding the Free Trade Agreement with Chile, and another is the conflict within government departments over the launching of foreign television broadcasts in Korea.

When a new administration is launched next year, government restructuring will be inevitable. We should learn from the recent failure and apply that knowledge when proceeding with future restructuring.


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The writer is the chairman of the Institute for Global Economics.

by Sakong Il

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