[EDITORIALS]A worrisome milestoneOur exports will soon exceed $300 billion for the first time. Only about 10 countries in the world, including the United States and Japan, have achieved that figure. Our products are being sold in 227 countries in the world. In electronic products shops abroad, liquid crystal display TV sets by Samsung and washing machines by LG Electronics are very popular. One can often spot a Hyundai car in the countryside of the United States. That is a drastic change from the old days, when Koreans used to stay up making wigs and shoes. To exceed the $300 billion line for exports is more meaningful, considering that it has been achieved despite three major disadvantages: the strong won, high oil prices and increasing costs of raw materials. When domestic sales have been sluggish, exports have supported the economy.
But one worry is that it is unhealthy to depend too much on exports. As industries with high-tech equipment lead exports, an increase in exports does not lead to an increase in the number of jobs. Growth without employment has become a trait of our economy. Empty cabs line the streets. Many restaurants have few customers. The people are having a hard time.
The outlook for our exports is not bright either. Our products are losing competitiveness money-wise due to the weak dollar and yen. Rising countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China, are chasing us at an alarming speed. It is worrisome that we depend on conglomerates and a small range of competitive products such as semiconductors, cars, mobile communication units and ships.
Last year, 2,100 medium and small-sized exporters went under, according to the Korean Institute of Trade Association. A strong foundation for exports should be presented. Otherwise, bad business practices by some companies or low sales of some products will damage exports at large and thus the country’s entire economy.
Research and development should be backed, so the country does not miss out on major changes in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology. Considering that our economy heavily depends on exports, signing a free trade agreement with Washington is a must, not a matter of choice. The government should work harder to sign free trade accords not only with Washington, but also with the European Union and Asian countries. The government also must lift regulations to allow companies to do business more eagerly and aggressively.