Park supportive of FTA with U.S., but with caveats

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Park supportive of FTA with U.S., but with caveats


Park Won-soon

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon yesterday said that he thinks the Korea-U.S. free trade deal “is needed for the entire nation’s benefit,” but he “can’t avoid representing Seoul citizens’ positions” at the same time.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at his office, Park said that he believes “concerns” remain that the FTA could have a negative impact on Seoul citizens.

“But I thought it wouldn’t be a good area to combat the central government in, so I ordered officials to be careful [expressing their positions about FTA],” Park said.

Park said in a Nov. 7 statement that the central government “shouldn’t determine the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade pact without a single negotiation with Seoul’s government.”

In yesterday’s interview, Park maintained that stance, saying, “The issue of allowing foreign super-supermarkets (SSMs) in local areas has lots of problems. My concerns about those kinds of matters haven’t been resolved yet.”

On the subject of rising political force Ahn Cheol-soo, who supported his bid for the Seoul mayor’s job, Park said, “Korean people are full of hopes for a new leader’s appearance.”

He continued: “The political tectonic plates will change in the future depending on how much opposition lawmakers can overhaul themselves to meet public expectations.”

Q. You have recently proposed your idea for the Korea-U.S. FTA to the central government.

A. As Seoul Mayor, I have to consider the position of Seoul citizens. For instance, the matter of SSMs is related to small, local, commercial neighborhoods. As a leader of a local government, I think I can worry about that to the central government. In terms of validity, I don’t think I said false things. The central government was negligent in communicating with local governments.

Do you think Ahn Cheol-soo has the intention and ability to lead the nation?

Korean people are full of discontent with old-fashioned behavior and ideas in Yeouido [where the National Assembly is] and have hopes for a new leader’s appearance. The support for and expectations of Ahn should be seen in this perspective.

Some are worried that your welfare policies are excessive.

Korea ranks high in the world’s top economies but its level of welfare services is lower than any other OECD country. The concept that welfare is a waste of money is wrong. Welfare can shore up economic growth and social stability. For instance, expanding child-care services creates jobs and helps more mothers work. We have invested more than 100 billion won ($87.5 million) in boosting services in next year’s budget proposal.

Some people say you have many ideas, but lack concrete plans.

I’ve seen many cases in which people with concrete directions failed. I pledged communication and sympathy with citizens. Those who believe they know everything and their knowledge is the best make the most mistakes. Although I have lots of ideas, I think listening to people on the ground is a virtue for an administrator. The age of depending on one or two experts has passed. The barrier between the government and nonprofit organizations and corporations is collapsing now.

Even if you expand child-care services, the number of jobs is decreasing in Korea.

People are competing for limited vacancies. We have to create new kinds of jobs. It could be social-enterprise companies or a more creative company related to cultural arts.

By Kim Young-hoon, Lee Han-gil []
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