[VIEWPOINT]Transport industry is a lifelineAfter the economic crisis and successful surgery by the IMF, our country is still in the recovery phase, trying to achieve growth and stability. Our lingering problems result from the exodus of domestic companies to foreign soil and the relative lack of foreign business coming into Korea. Foreign firms hesitate to set up shops here because of traditional government red tape and our militant labor movement.
More and more Korean companies are moving their manufacturing bases to other places; there seems to be no end to this trend of deindustrialization. We will eventually face an overall decline in domestic employment, which will result in lower economic activity.
Before we know it, we will be on the same path of long-term economic decline as in Japan.
In order to prevent this movie script from going into production, we must set up a legal framework to turn Korea into a center for transportation and build the infrastructure to bring that framework to life.
Many countries are trying to become a transportation hub in order to attract global companies. Our beloved trading partner, Mr. China, is concentrating a big chunk of his resources into doing just that.
Our country is located in the middle of Northeast Asia. That is a gift for free － something very rare these days. We can and must exploit our strategic location. So far, we have made some progress in establishing a good support network of airports, roads and ports. In addition, once the much-anticipated railway connection from South to North is completed, we will be in a position to offer ourselves as the most attractive transportation point in the region. Our caravans will reach far beyond our borders, through Central Asia to the Middle East and distant Europe.
Nevertheless, despite our ongoing efforts, we must realize that we also need a support infrastructure, especially a legal infrastructure, and that is just in an infant stage compared to international standards. Since we do not have a general strategy to become a distinguished transportation hub, we shouldn't be surprised at our lack of support infrastructure.
That general strategy has to come first. Currently, there is no concerted effort even to harmonize our existing legal provisions. We have to dust off the laws and bring them up to date.
The next step should be to create an international support center for transportation so that any problems that occur can be dealt with swiftly and on the spot.
Flexible utilization of our west coast industrial areas and the establishment of a free trade zone are essential as well to propel us into an active transportation industry.
Currently, harbors and surrounding areas have been designated as cornerstones of our transport hub strategy, but the lack of sufficient land and questions of timing are hampering progress. Time is running out, and if we do not move quickly enough all of our hopes and dreams will end up as a mirage.
Lastly, as is true for virtually every grand plan, we need the right human resources to implement what we plan. A systematic educational system is needed to produce the right personnel in sufficient numbers at the right time.
Taking a look at China, it is attracting manufacturing companies by the hundreds while a systematic effort to transform Shanghai into an international harbor is in full swing. We must counter this competition before it is too late. Once an international transportation point has been established and recognized by the international community as sufficient, it is not easy to make companies switch to another one. Time and money are two things that no one has enough of to spare.
We should take a clue from the Netherlands, which is already a noted international transportation hub. To make things easier for foreign companies, the Dutch have opened an office solely dedicated to attracting foreign capital in the industry and a transportation support center that provides aid if any problem occurs.
This is a very crucial time for us. Under one general strategy we must build a comprehensive support structure from harbors to roads. Then we will have a chance to become a truly competitive international transport hub and attract foreign companies to our shores.
The writer is vice president of the Korea Maritime Institute.
by Chin Hyung-in