Accelerate triumvirate talksIn his visit to China, South Korean Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun again floated the idea of a free trade agreement involving Korea, China and Japan.
He argued that the three could unite to become as strong and formidable as the European Union bloc.
Integrating the three countries could create an economic force in terms of share of global gross domestic product, putting it on par with the eurozone, Yoon said during a meeting he attended in Beijing.
We think he has a point.
Linking the three economies would have a synergy effect extending far beyond mere numbers and could create numerous benefits for the region.
In May of this year, the heads of the three countries agreed, in principle, on the idea of a tripartite free trade bloc and to establish an office in Seoul to study the feasibility of the plan. All three countries have also agreed on the necessity and effect of the creation of a regional economic bloc and vowed to pursue that goal.
But the problem is that the three countries are hesitant to address various conflicts of interest in order to pave the way for economic integration.
Korea and China have embarked on government-level negotiations without first narrowing their differences on farm and fishery issues. Korea and Japan also have made little progress in similar areas since talks between the two governments stalled in November 2004.
While agreeing on the general idea, the three countries have been dithering around and have not yet fully committed to a regional FTA.
Yet they separately pursue economic unions or free trade pacts with other parts of Asia, such as Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan. If the three countries try to forge free trade agreements with other countries on an individual basis, the long-cherished Korea-China-Japan FTA will never materialize.
Now is the time for the three countries to take the initiative and back up their words with action.
If various domestic issues and conflicts create stumbling blocks that cannot easily be removed, the nations should consider smaller steps to make some headway.
There is no need to do everything all at once, as they can at the very least create a framework and then take up the sensitive issues later.
To do that, they should first attempt to draw up a moderate FTA and then broaden the scope of it over time according to its progress.
Like the saying goes: “You will never reach your goal until you start to take action, any action.”