We all deserve an explanation

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We all deserve an explanation

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is at the center of worldwide attention. The framework of the TPP is the economic alliance between the United States and Japan. The two countries lead the partnership and have the biggest shares. How about other participating countries? Among the 12 nations that signed, Vietnam and Malaysia are most noteworthy. While the United States and Japan benefit the most from the trade agreement, Vietnam and Malaysia enjoy considerable gains. The trade agreement presents an opportunity for Vietnam and Malaysia to emerge as the “factory of the world,” replacing China.

Multinationals aiming for the world’s biggest market without tariffs and non-tariff barriers are strongly tempted to relocate their production bases there. Strict labor regulations, including minimum wages and workplace safety, may pose immediate obstacles. However, they can actually expand that global standard to overall economy. As Vietnam is involved in a territorial dispute with China, the TPP would serve as a protection for Vietnam to check China. The TPP should be perceived as a national strategy beyond a trade agreement.

But the reaction of the Korean government has been strange. While the deputy prime minister for the economy said the government was considering participating in the TPP, the minister of commerce, industry and energy said the decision should be made through public discussions, as it may replace a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan. Different government ministries have different stances.

The TPP didn’t happen overnight. It was first discussed in 2005. The United States joined in 2008, followed by Japan in 2013.

Hasn’t the Korean government reviewed the impact and consequences over the last 10 years? We need to see if the explanations given by the government are valid.

The government has been explaining that Korea has bilateral FTAs with 10 of the TPP members and that not being included in the TPP would not be a problem. But the idea of the TPP, a multilateral free trade agreement, was conceived because multiple bilateral FTAs create issues due to differing origin labeling and customs procedures. And the government was eager to participate in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an initiative led by China. In this particular case, Korea has an FTA with all 16 of the member countries, except Japan. The government’s explanation is inconsistent and unreasonable.

When criticized, the government suggested joining the TPP in the future. Since it takes at least a year for ratification in each country after the agreement, Korea can join then, it argued. But Korea now has to ask TPP members to add Korea into the already-concluded negotiation. How can Korea promote our goals and refuse the demands of other countries? Barriers for Korea’s entry are predicted to be high, sources in the United States predict.

A national strategy needs to be accompanied by logic and explanation. We are increasingly anxious not because Korea is not part of the TPP, but because there is no reason for the decision.

The author is a New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 10, Page 26


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