KITA chief Sakong Il to step down this month

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KITA chief Sakong Il to step down this month

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A picketer calls for Sakong Il, chairman of the Korea International Trade Association, to resign in southern Seoul. Provided by the union

Sakong Il, chairman of the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), announced he would step down yesterday amid growing public criticism of the government’s revolving-door politics.

Sakong, a close aide to President Lee Myung-bak, said he will leave the post on Feb. 22 when a regular general meeting is scheduled to be held.

“For the past three years, I have been making efforts to improve conditions in the trade environment, including providing support for small- and medium-sized trade companies and signing free trade agreements with several countries,” Sakong said in a statement.

“However, I don’t want to seem reluctant to give up my position, and I want to leave in a dignified manner.” he said. “After resigning, I still want to contribute to the development of the national economy and promote trade.”

Although the chairman created the impression that he is stepping down voluntarily, he may not genuinely wish to leave the post, according to industry insiders.

A union of small trade companies released a statement yesterday after the news broke applauding his move.

“Sakong made the right decision to resign, and we support his decision,” the union said. “The next chairman should be elected among industrial officials who have field experience.”

Sakong’s resignation came one day after the union publicly issued its belief that the KITA, which was established to represent the interests of small exporters and importers, has been acting like a government agency for three years.

“Chairman Sakong spent more than half of his term preparing for the Group of 20 Seoul summit,” said the chairman of a logistics company on condition of anonymity. “[The summit] was an achievement for the nation, but this does not excuse his negligence in terms of setting aside his other duties as chairman of the trade association.”

The union also lashed out at the KITA for siding with the government instead of the trade industry over Korea’s recently approved free trade agreement with the United States, which is due to be implemented early this year.

“Among 100,000 exporters and importers, including KITA’s 60,000 members, some will benefit from the Korea-U.S. FTA, but others will lose out, and a percentage will go belly-up,” the organization said.

The union asserted that although the KITA is a private organization for trade, only three of its 16 former chairmen came from such a background. The others previously served as ministers or presidential aides - including Sakong.

But Sakong, who took office early in 2009 when the global financial crisis was dealing a blow to the nation’s export market, has racked up a number of remarkable achievements during his term, according to KITA.

Engineering Korea’s rise to the so-called $1 trillion trade club last year - making it just the ninth country to do so - was just one of his accomplishments. He also played a significant role in helping prepare for the G-20 Seoul summit and ratifying the Korus FTA. “I worked hard, taking pride in my position,” he said.


By Song Su-hyun [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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