[Viewpoint] The Korea-U.S. FTA: A window of opportunity

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[Viewpoint] The Korea-U.S. FTA: A window of opportunity

Collecting myself from the 25-hour-long debate to discuss the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (Korus FTA) held in the National Assembly last week, I sat at my desk and reflected on the past few years. As chief negotiator for the Korus FTA, I envisioned an open, vigorous Korea that spreads its wings out into the world after having concluded the FTA negotiations with the United States.

It did not take long, however, before I realized that my struggle against the disagreements and prejudices within Korea would take far longer to resolve than my negotiations with the United States. There were times when I had to put up with the humiliation of being called “another Lee Wan-yong” (a pro-Japan traitor in the 1940s), or “proconsul of the United States.” I even thought of leaving my position as minister for trade.

Yet, on all such occasions, I gathered myself again, thinking of the responsibility on my shoulders to make Korea the nation that it should be. I thought of the cab driver insisting on a free ride for my hard work, the restaurant owner serving my meal on the house, the college student asking me to be a mentor and my adorable two-year-old granddaughter.

A train named “Korus FTA” started its journey in 2006 under the leadership of President Roh Moo-hyun and has made a long stop at “National Assembly Station” for refueling. Many companies, workers and consumers have waited more than four years for the “Korus FTA” to continue its journey.

Those against the agreement have stoned this train ever since it started rolling under the Roh administration. After some time, when a new conductor came on board, even those who were on the train got off and started to throw stones at it.

Such prejudice and political calculations cannot ensure the survival of our generation and generations to come amid increasingly fierce global competition. Of course, the Korus FTA is not a magic wand. However, I am convinced that this trade pact will provide a broader window of opportunity for this and future generations, and this opportunity favors those who take advantage of it.

If the Korus FTA fails to be ratified by lawmakers, the “Korus FTA” express will end up being a forgotten page of history, like a scrap engine that could not run. Killing the Korus FTA, an express train for Korean businesses toward the North American market, is not an option for Korean companies that are desperately searching for a way to survive in the wake of the global economic crisis.

*The writer is the minister for trade.

By Kim Jong-hoon
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