[EDITORIALS]Don't miss the trade train

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[EDITORIALS]Don't miss the trade train

Korea is the sole laggard in free-trade talks among Asian nations. If Korea does not stir itself into action, its future might be at risk, not to mention its strategy of becoming the logistics and financial hub of Northeast Asia.

We have to watch the outcome of the summit held in Phnom Penh, attended by the Association of South East Asian Nations and Korea, Japan and China. China agreed with ASEAN to conclude free-trade agreement deals by 2004. According to ASEAN's schedule, by 2015, the largest economic bloc in the world, 1.8 billion people, will emerge. Japan sealed a pact with ASEAN leaders to work on a framework to develop a free-trade zone.

The Korean government's stance, in contrast, is so unresponsive that it looks pathetic. Prime Minister Kim Suk-soo said: "The government's principle is to pursue free-trade agreements with ASEAN in stages and gradually in the long term because we expect resistance to increasing imports of agricultural goods." What Mr. Kim meant, according to a government authority, was that forging free-trade agreements with ASEAN is difficult for the time being for many reasons.

The free-trade agreement between Korea and Chile is waiting for National Assembly approval after a long struggle to draft the pact. With every politician trying to figure out how to get more votes, it must have been impossible for Mr. Kim to declare Korea's firm commitment to a free-trade agreement. If the next administration fails to make its position on free-trade accords clear, it will immediately face its certain demise.

Not a single Korean wants this country excluded from the world's third economic bloc, following the North America Free Trade Agreement and the European Union. In terms of economic development, industrial structure and competitiveness, Korea is ranked between Japan and China/ASEAN.

We are in a position to influence the negotiations, and for that purpose, Korea has to participate in talks. The issue will be how to address domestic industrial restructuring and the concerns of interest groups.

That is why vision and leadership are the most desirable characteristics of our leaders at this moment.
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