No commitments on trade issues
In the 19th presidential election, trade has been pushed aside. The candidates have yet to present a blueprint on how to maintain exports, which Korea heavily relies on, in the rising waves of protectionism. Especially since the Trump administration began, the possibility of renegotiating the free trade agreement between Korea and the U.S. is constantly mentioned, but the countermeasures cannot be found in the campaign pledges.
On Korea-U.S. relations, Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in stated that strategic partnership will continue based on the military alliance and FTA. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party said he would pursue trade diplomacy based on the FTA and trade policy that has good cycle with domestic economy. His policy remains very basic. The Liberty Korea Party’s Hong Joon-pyo and Bareun Party’s Yoo Seong-min did not include trade policy in the ten major pledges.
The Justice Party’s Sim Sang-jeung’s pledge includes her intention to research the impact of FTAs, including the one with the United States, on overall society, including national economy and human rights. Her pledge is specific, and it is similar to the stance that Moon Jae-in made during the 2012 presidential election. Moon included the renegotiation of Korea-U.S. FTA in his pledges to remove “toxic clauses” such as ISD (investor-state disputes).
But things have changed. The Trump administration is strongly pressing that the trade deficit of the United States increased due to Korea-U.S. FTA. Vice President Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are attacking the FTA. The trade pressure could throw cold water on export recovery.
Nevertheless, the presidential candidates cannot avoid the criticism that they are too focused on domestic issues such as welfare and neglecting the importance of trade. The atmosphere has spread around the government. With all of the government reorganization-related promises, trade is being disregarded, and installing a ministry for small and medium-sized businesses is highlighted.
An economic ministry official who wishes to remain anonymous said that candidates are less interested in trade policy as it does not affect voters. But when trade is shaken by China’s retaliation over the Thaad deployment, the Korean economy may miss a hard-earned opportunity for recovery. When the economy is unstable, welfare and employment promises will become unattainable. The candidates need to more actively care about the trade issues that affect the nation’s economy.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 28, Page 37
*The author is a business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.