[Viewpoint]The FTA is key to our competitiveness

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[Viewpoint]The FTA is key to our competitiveness

Various rumors have been circulating regarding the Korean government’s position on the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. The reason for this is because the negotiations did not progress smoothly and people have raised questions whether the government actually has the will to conclude an agreement.
There was even a rumor that President Roh Moo-hyun was trying to provoke anti-U.S. sentiment among the people by holding the United States responsible for the disruptions in the Korea-U.S. free trade talks.
Supposedly, by doing so he intended to help the progressive camp regain political power.
Now that the eighth round of negotiations has come to an end, however, we can put aside such doubts.
“Signing the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and sending it to the National Assembly for ratification involves a lot of political risks,” President Roh said Tuesday morning. “But the government started the talks anticipating opposition from the beginning. Therefore, the negotiations should be carried out thoroughly on the basis of our side’s economic interests, instead of giving too much consideration to the political concerns.”
He asked the negotiators to stick to principles of utilitarianism and good salesmanship in the course of the talks.
It’s human nature for politicians to be sensitive about their supporting forces.
President Roh has actually lost a lot politically because of the proposed Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. After the president gave his full support to the Korea-U.S. free trade talks, the progressives and left-wing camp gave him the cold shoulder; some even turned against him.
Why is President Roh pushing hard for a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which would bring him no political gain?
Opponents can raise any number of suspicions. They can attack him, by saying, for example, “He has received bribes from corporations;” “He is deceived by officials who act as agents for foreign capital;” or “He professes himself to be a left-winger but he is actually a right-winger.” Even at a glance, these accusations do not make sense.
But the following analysis is relatively closer to the truth:
However hard you may agonize over the future of the nation, there is no other way ―except by lowering trade barriers ― that Korea can increase its national competitiveness. If we are to open our doors, it would be most beneficial to our national interest to conclude a free trade agreement with the United States first.
There is no way for us to survive without opening our doors, as long as we live in a country with 80 percent of its economy dependent on trade, that is situated on a small piece of land with absolutely no natural resources; and whose economic system has half of its stock investments dependent on foreign funds. Moreover, domestic funds are also invested in overseas markets, such as China and Vietnam.
Korea has created a “Korean cultural wave” in neighboring countries by exporting Korean movies and dramas. There is no clever scheme with which we can avoid importing other countries’ cultural products.
When foreign giants such as Carrefour and Wal-mart advanced into the Korean market with their own distribution chains, all of the Korean distributors were expected to go bankrupt, but instead, Korean companies took over the foreign enterprises. How can this be explained?
The opening of markets also benefits the consumers. Whether it is the service market or general products, including agricultural products, there is a good chance that intensified competition through the opening of the market will, in general, lead to the destruction of monopolies and lower prices. There is no reason for the consumer to dislike that.
What is important, above all, is that there does not seem to be any other way to enhance Korea’s national competitiveness without concluding a free trade agreement.
Therefore, I think the groups that stage demonstrations against the trade agreement should first come up with alternative solutions that can help promote our national competitiveness. Whether they stage demonstrations or throw Molotov cocktails, they should present alternatives first.
“Owing to the trade talks with the United States, Korea has already taken a more advantageous position than other countries,” said an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and China are enthusiastic about “promoting trade negotiations” with Korea, according to him. These countries will certainly need to take countermeasures if U.S. products come into the Korean market free of customs duties.
This is the reason why chances are high that Korea’s economic position will be enhanced if the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is concluded successfully.
It is hard to deny that market opening and competition is the current trend, whether you like it or not. We can either ride it by actively responding to the challenges, or fail.
We cannot repeat the tragic history of being degraded to a colony by shutting our doors and ignoring the outside world.

*The writer is the city news senior editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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