Trade technocrats describe altered policy priorities

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Trade technocrats describe altered policy priorities

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The Park Geun-hye government has announced a trade policy package with a new focus on pragmatism.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said yesterday the government will not concentrate exclusively on free-trade agreements, but will utilize various forms of trade deals flexibly in order to maximize the effects on trade that consumers and businesses can actually feel.

“The government will maintain its current stance on an open economy, but a new policy will focus on sharing the effects of trade with businesses, farmers and consumers,” said Choi Kyung-lim, deputy minister for trade, at a press conference on Thursday.

It is the first time the Trade Ministry has unveiled new goals after it merged with the former Ministry of Knowledge Economy, which was in charge of overseeing industries.

President Park said trade policies would be more effective if they were closely linked to industries.

The focus of Korea’s trade policy has long been on FTAs with advanced economies. The former Lee Myung-bak administration made all-out efforts to clinch deals with the U.S. in 2012 and the European Union in 2011.

The Korea-U.S. FTA faced opposition from some members of the public and opposition parties, but finally came into effect after more than six years of negotiations.

With the two major deals, Korea’s exports surged to $548 billion last year, and it became the seventh largest exporter in the world.

The new focus is to diversify trade deals that can target emerging countries and bring about tangible benefits to consumers and businesses.

“Korea will not concentrate solely on FTAs as a means of trade policy, but will take into account the needs of businesses and overseas conditions in order to create new forms of trade tools,“ Choi said.

The government will push trade ties with countries that are rich in resources or technologies.

Under the strategy, Korea plans to boost ties with countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Still, the government will accelerate efforts to clinch an FTA with China as well as a trilateral agreement with China and Japan.

Korea and China have currently completed the fifth round of negotiations for a bilateral FTA. The two countries have agreed to divide the negotiation process into two parts.

“We don’t have a target date to conclude the negotiations yet, but there will be no breakdown of the undertaking despite some expected difficulties,” Choi said. “The two countries firmly believe that a bilateral agreement would benefit both of us.”

For the trilateral agreement with China and Japan, the three countries launched the first negotiation session in March, despite worries about political problems among the three parties.

The government will keep working on its FTAs with Vietnam and Indonesia too, utilizing them to help Korean businesses expand into those burgeoning markets.

The second round of talks with Vietnam and the third round with Indonesia were both held last month.

Korea’s share in the global FTA market currently stands at 35 percent and it is forecast to reach 69 percent by 2017 if all of the deals are signed.

The government harbors a bigger ambition, hoping Korea will ultimately serve as a “linchpin” in the global FTA network.

BY SONG SU-HYUN [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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