A crucial trade pactThe Korea-U.S. free trade talks have not been going very smoothly, to say the least. First, the Korean side’s strategies were leaked to the press, and then Kim Jong-hoon, the Korean chief negotiator, stopped sounding very confident.
Mr. Kim said whether it was due to the Korean side or the U.S. counterparts, the agreement might not be concluded. We hope this comment was not just a reaction to temporary frustration and exhaustion. We would like to believe it was a piece of strategy to press the Americans to come to terms.
Whatever the reason, at an important juncture as negotiations near the end, it might be inappropriate for our senior representative to come out limping in public. Mr. Kim is a commander-in-chief on the battlefield. Anti-free trade sentiment is quite substantial, and conspiracy theories abound these days. There are many issues on which the two sides have significant disagreements, including anti-dumping, country of origin for products from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea and automobile taxes. If anything, Mr. Kim should appear firm and determined in his positions.
Our economy depends so heavily on trade that opening up our market is not an option, but a requirement. Our survival hinges on the free trade talks with the United States, one of our major trading partners. As Samsung’s chairman, Lee Kun-hee, said recently, we are sandwiched between the leading Asian economy of Japan and the surging one of China. While we are stuck with ideologies and “codes,” Japan has been growing for five years. Toyota is now the world’s top auto maker, and Sony Ericsson has surpassed Korea’s LG Electronics in the cell phone market and is threatening No. 3 Samsung Electronics.
China is coming on strong. The gap between Korea and China in information technology is about 1.7 years. China’s economy grew 10.7 percent last year. At this pace, by 2008, China’s gross domestic product could be third in the world, trailing only the United States and Japan. Then we will indeed be sandwiched.
More than half of the 350 companies surveyed by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said they had no idea how they would be doing in three years. If we refuse to open up under such circumstances, only a dark future awaits us. The government, both governing and opposition parties, and the public must work together to conclude the free trade agreement with the United States. That is how we can survive.