Reconsider an FTA with Japan

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Reconsider an FTA with Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is on an official visit to Korea for two days. His decision to pick Seoul as his first destination for a diplomatic tour since his inauguration in August signifies the strategic importance of Korea and its high place on his agenda. His visit to Seoul undoubtedly reflects an urgent need for Tokyo to improve relations with Korea amidst China’s unfettered military expansion in the Pacific, North Korea’s ever belligerent provocations and Japan’s frayed ties with its ally, the United States.

Expansion of the economic relationship between Korea and Japan has been hindered by a series of disruptive issues, such as different views on shared history, unceasing disputes over territorial rights to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea and the Japanese government’s intransigent attitude on compensation for the “comfort women” who were sexually victimized by the Japanese Army during World War II.

Yet Noda chose Seoul as his first destination because of his conviction that consolidation of bilateral relations between the two countries is a more pressing issue than any other. If Noda is visiting Seoul not merely as a political gesture, he should be given some tangible and substantial results.

It has been reported that Noda is attaching great significance to a resumption of negotiations on a Korea-Japan free trade agreement, which were suspended since 2004, because he is convinced that a closely knit economic and political bond is one of the most realistic solutions that can guarantee Japan’s prosperity in the future amid uncertainties unfolding in northeast Asia.

The problem is what attitude the Korean government has on the trade deal. In fact, the negotiations for a Korea-Japan FTA came to a halt due to domestic issues in the two countries at a phase at which both sides had almost finished discussions on a practical level.

Now that Japan has come forward to encourage a trade pact with Korea by setting aside volatile political issues of the past, our government needs to employ a more practical approach by closely weighing the pros and cons of the idea.

A Korea-Japan FTA would carry great significance as it can mark a first step toward a bigger future: trilateral FTAs among Korea, Japan and China. The government needs to actively pursue the Korea-Japan FTA by taking inspiration from the Korea-U.S. FTA, which was ratified by the U.S. Congress last week, and the ongoing negotiations for a Korea-China FTA.
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