[EDITORIALS]The start of a new trade eraThe National Assembly finally approved the free trade agreement between South Korea and Chile yesterday. The approval took seven months and four attempts after the bill first advanced to the Assembly floor on July 8, 2003, and its significance is huge. The country has gained a foothold in the Latin American market. Negotiations with Japan and Singapore are likely to gain momentum.
Nevertheless, the past seven months have shown how inept Korean society is at reaching a social consensus. Opposition from farmers’ groups and legislators from rural districts was expected. But both the opposition and governing political parties did nothing to persuade their legislators, and the government, too, stood back, hoping that the Assembly would deal with the issue. The ratification of the trade pact leaves a bad precedent, since it was passed only after fierce criticism and the government’s announcement of further assistance to the nation’s agro-fisheries industries.
The winding path leading to ratification illustrates, once again, how difficult it is to open up the nation’s farming industry. A decade has passed since the signing of the Uruguay Round trade accords, and the government has poured trillions of won into the farming community, but not much seems to have improved.
Farmers’ distrust of the government and lawmakers has grown. What that suggests is that the government’s new 10-year plan to invest 180 trillion won ($155 billion) in the farming industry should be about reviving the farming communities. Farmers and their advocacy groups should not merely oppose the trade pact, but look for new strategies of growth and survival in an open trade era.
The free trade pact with Chile is merely a beginning to a new era. More fierce opposition is expected when negotiations with Japan begin. But with our economy dependent on exports, we cannot ignore the reality where 45 percent of world trade takes place among countries that have signed free trade agreements. The government should explain the necessity of the free trade pact, and what its benefits are, and put forth an alternative to opposing groups. The government should begin searching for ways to minimize the social cost.