Baby stepsEver since leaders from Korea, China and Japan agreed at a summit last week to proceed with a trilateral free trade agreement, the three countries have been rushing to come up with measures to help ensure a speedy accord.
Such an agreement is the first step toward economic cooperation when it comes to resolving the global economic crisis and forming a cooperative body in northeast Asia, which Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had earlier proposed.
The European Union, one of the most successful examples of a regional cooperative body, reached its current status with significant backing from the European Economic Community.
In this regard, Korea, China and Japan have already achieved a sufficient level of maturity to form such a regional community. The three account for a large part of the global economy, and the size of internal trade among them is bigger than in any other region in the world.
According to a joint study by the three countries conducted after the 2003 trilateral summit, each one would reap benefits from such a partnership.
Should a free trade agreement actually take shape, Korea’s trade volume would rise an estimated 10 percent, while its economic growth rate would surge by an additional 5.14 percent.
At the same time, China’s trade volume would jump by more than 12 percent, according to the study, and its economic growth would rise an additional 1.54 percent. Japan, it was estimated, would see its trade volume surge 5.2 percent, and its economic growth would increase another 1.2 percent.
There have been numerous discussions about a free trade agreement, but no real concrete steps have been taken. The three countries are in different stages of economic development and have widening national interests under the scenario of an open market among them, which is complicating matters. Although they agree that an FTA could maximize their common interests, the countries have not been able to overcome other concerns related to such a deal.
But if the countries approach the FTA from such a narrow perspective, the whole process will continue to stagnate.
Now that the leaders of each country have said they want to discuss the matter again, they should approach the issue from a macro perspective going forward. If necessary, they should temporarily put aside the controversial areas of such a deal and first finalize aspects on which they mutually agree.
The most important thing at the moment is to take the initial step toward economic cooperation.