[Viewpoint] The folly of the Democratic PartyWhat the main opposition Democratic Party opposes is not the contentious investor-state dispute settlement provision but the free trade agreement with the United States as a whole. They have joined the Democratic Labor Party and radical organizations to resist a stronger Korea-U.S. alliance.
They fear the economy will pick up thanks to increased exports from liberalized trade with the world’s largest market before President Lee Myung-bak’s term ends. Easing wealth inequality could water down discontent with the incumbent conservative government among the country’s main voting base - those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
They do not care that the market share of Korean products in the United States has slipped to 2.4 percent from 3 percent in 2000 or that over 2,100 global investment agreements include the provision allowing foreign investors the right to bring a dispute to an international arbitration panel.
They refuse to believe that the 123-member arbitration panel of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes must have an equal number of Koreans and Americans on board, preventing rulings that blindly favor American investors. They insist that our public policies could be undermined even though welfare policies on social insurance, public health and security are not subject to investment disputes.
The Democratic Party is willingly posing as a puppet of the Democratic Labor Party, fooling the public for self-serving interests and provoking violence in the National Assembly. Standing at the forefront is the former presidential candidate from the then-ruling party, Representative Chung Dong-young. To legislators of the DP, the future and competitiveness of the Korean economy are secondary. The political equation for the DP leadership is complicated due to conflicts of interest. Chung aims to strengthen his status in the party by leading the anti-FTA campaign. Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the DP, wants to take leadership of an opposition coalition by playing along with the progressive groups and splinter opposition parties. National interests are in jeopardy because of the opposition leaders’ ambitions.
A free trade agreement with the United States would be a boon to the Korean economy. It is expected to help generate 350,000 new jobs and strengthen the competitiveness of the agriculture industry. Otherwise the agriculture industry will likely see output drop by 800 billion won a year, amounting to a loss of 12 trillion won over the next 15 years.
If the DP is genuinely concerned about the economy and the farming and fishing industries, it should examine the government’s compensation package to the agriculture industry thoroughly and work with the government and ruling party to come up with long-term plan to strengthen weak industries instead of wrangling over the ISD clause.
The opposition’s victory in the Seoul mayoral by-election does not license its leadership to pursue self-interest and ambitions by putting the country’s future at stake. They are still under the influence of an election win to see that the support from young voters primarily came from economic unrest and complaints. They will pay a heavy price in the next parliamentary and presidential elections if they risk the economy.
The DP must realize that an FTA with the United States not only aids our economy but also aids our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region. China and Japan hope to strike an FTA with Korea for strategic reasons. China hopes to separate Korea from a three-fold economic front of Korea, Japan and the United States and wants to use a unilateral free trade pact with Korea as strategic leverage. Japan wishes to strengthen its traditional economic and security alliance with Korea and the United States and counteract China’s rising power and restore economic and global leadership.
China and Japan are separately courting Korea to initiate free trade deals. The regional circumstances cannot be better for Korea. We can capitalize on our geographic advantage and middle-power status. The Korea-U.S. FTA can be a turning point in broadening our economic realm and stabilizing our economic and security status in the region.
Our future economic strategy is on the line. If a trade deal with the United States flops, we lose our bargaining edge in trade negotiations with China, Japan and in other international agreements. How will the DP account for the colossal loss in our economic competitiveness, exports and new jobs as well as the country’s international credibility?
The impotence in the ruling party’s leadership only worsens the matter. It is no use to argue that the original idea of a FTA with the United States had been the brainchild of President Roh Moo-hyun.
The Grand National Party represents 168 seats and the majority of the people who wish what’s best of the country. It must use all of its creativity to ratify the FTA and the DP must recover from its identity crisis, come to its senses and start worrying about the country for a change.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie
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