‘Made in Korea’ has a nice ring to it

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‘Made in Korea’ has a nice ring to it

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When everything made in America was welcome, Namdaemun Market was the place to shop. I used to accompany my mother on her shopping trips to Namdaemun’s import market, commonly referred to as the “goblin market.” The goods were mostly from U.S. Army bases. Why goblin? I asked my mother, “Are there real goblins there?” “Sure, their magic club can produce anything you ask.” When I got there, I knew what she meant. The market had chocolates and peanut butter and C-rations. To a young boy, the United States was a magical world of goblins.

That day, my mother bought two empty jars of Gerber baby food. The world-famous purveyor of baby food, with over 80 years of history, features a portrait of a blue-eyed baby on the packaging. At the time, Gerber containers were extremely popular among Korean homemakers, who used the glass jars to pack lunch items, especially kimchi. A container made in Korea almost always leaked, even if you wrapped it with plastic and rubber bands. The liquid from kimchi would often leak and ruin the bag. But Gerber jars were different. They lasted several months without leaking a drop. They exuded perfection, and that’s why you had to pay tens of won for an empty jar in the days when you could read comic books all day for 10 won ($0.01). “Made in America” was the symbol of the best, most coveted products.

Over several decades, goods made in the U.S.A. were replaced by products manufactured in Japan, Germany and then China. Now, the United States is dreaming of a return to those glory days. Factories that moved to other countries are coming back, and a number of information and communications product (ICT) products are produced in the United States. Google announced last month it would produce Google Glass - an ambitious wearable computer to be released this year - in California. At the end of last year, Apple decided to spend $100 million to relocate its PC manufacturing line back to America. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt built a new appliance manufacturing plant in Kentucky and declared the era of outsourcing ended. The resurrection of “Made in U.S.A.” is what Boston Consulting Group calls “insourcing” and U.S. President Barack Obama dubbed “a renaissance in American manufacturing.”

Is a revival really possible? Lately, optimistic views are spreading. First, the wage level in China is rising fast. In 2000, the average wage in the United States was 22 times that of China. But by 2015, American workers will be four times more expensive. Second, the economic slump made it more important to add jobs in the United States than producing at cheaper cost in China. Third, high-tech products require design and advanced technology, and it is a competitive edge if the manufacturing site is closer to headquarters.

Following in the footsteps of their U.S. counterparts, Japanese companies are also making a “U-turn” under Abenomics.

How about Korea? We are still seeking outsourcing opportunities. Justifications include labor-management struggles, elevating inter-Korean tension and political attacks on corporations. So it is worrisome that we may leave goblin markets and admiration for American goods to the next generation, along with the slogan “Let’s use domestic products!”


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yi Jung-jae
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