[TODAY]Edmund Burke and ChileEdmund Burke, father of conservative political thought, was a member of the House of Commons representing Bristol from 1774 to 1780. He voted on many major bills in direct opposition to demands from his constituents. One such vote was on a bill for free trade with Ireland, France and British colonies. After the bill became law, Bristol lost much of its status as a leading port. A bill for relief of insolvent debtors that he voted for was not in the interest of creditors in Bristol, who accumulated wealth through trading and money-lending.
In the legislative elections of 1780, the voters in Bristol turned their back on Burke. After delivering an eloquent speech in the city hall of Bristol, Burke withdrew his candidacy.
When the national interest and local interests were in conflict, he asserted, lawmakers should see “the essence of things” and carry out their duties from the wider national perspective. This was a modern thought that enhanced the level of politics from that of seeking provincial interests to pursuing the national interest and implied a demand for poltical reform: Professional politicians should be sent to the Parliament.
Burke warned that if lawmakers clung to local districts, national representation would be subservient to local representation.
In the National Assembly’s failure to approve the ratification of the Korea-Chile free trade agreement, we saw a typical case of lawmakers from rural districts opposing the national interest for local interests’ sake. Their action will not enhance farmers’ long-term interests, but are simply political disturbances aimed at getting more votes in the April elections.
Although it is controversial whether Chile, which is not self-sufficient in food production, is an agricultural powerhouse, let’s assume that it can export in quantity to Korea. Also, let’s suppose that in the 10 years after the free trade pact takes effect, Korean farmers have lost 50 billion won ($43 million) as the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy estimated, or 300 billion won as the Korea Rural Economic Institute estimated, or 600 billion won as Hong Jong-ho and Moon Chung-geol at Hanyang University estimated. The government said in July that it would subsidize farmers to the tune of 1 trillion won over seven years to compensate for those losses.
The 1 trillion won is expected to be raised to 1.5 trillion won in the Assembly deliberations over ratifying the agreement. The government plans to invest 119 trillion won, including that 1.5 trillion won, from 2004 to 2013 to strengthen agricultural competitiveness, give direct income assistance and improve the rural quality of life in areas such as education, medical care and welfare.
More than half of world trade is carried out among members of free trade agreements. But Korea, 60 percent of whose gross national product depends on overseas trade, lags far behind; like only Mongolia, Korea has no free trade agreements at all.
Burke’s remark that lawmakers should see the essence of things is not a difficult philosophical proposition. It means that we should think conceptually to compare and calculate the losses that farmers would face from the expansion of the free trade against the greater profits that the Korean economy could gain from the expansion of exports in industrial goods.
It is an unrealistic demand that representatives should not pay attention to their constituents. But lawmakers who represent rural districts should explain to their constituents the national and economic interest of expanding free trade and promise to monitor for them the government programs to compensate them for their losses. They can and should muster the support of their consituents by doing so. They should be able to explain that the national economy and the rural economy are not a zero-sum relationship but that both can grow in tandem.
The leaders of the four political parties say they are determined to ratify the free trade agreement on Feb. 9. Faculty member of agricultural colleges nationwide also urged politicians and farmers not to oppose the free trade pact unconditionally but positively seek ways to survive. Developed countries are continuously improving their agriculture by introducing advanced technology into the sector. China threatens Korea’s agriculture like a black cloud with quantity instead of quality. It is common sense that the competitiveness of Korean agriculture should not be left as it is. If the lawmakers took the lead in the ratification of the free trade agreement instead of staging demonstrations against it, Korean politics would advance a step further.
Edmund Burke, a master of political philosophy, had that kind of determination 224 years ago after going through an agonizing period of thought and introspection. I think Korean lawmakers can take a lesson from him and examine the meaning of his words.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie