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Choeng Wa Dae remarks on FTA are only a start

Chosun Ilbo, Korea

Choeng Wa Dae Remarks on FTA Are Only a Start

13 April 2006

President Roh Moo-hyun’s public relations secretary Lee Baek-man has rejected criticism from circles close to the government that a planned free-trade agreement with the U.S. would amount to selling out the nation. Lee said the reason why K-pop star Rain is trying to enter the U.S. market, for instance, “is to protect his popularity in Asia”: by the same token the government wants the FTA as a way for Korea to protect its share in the global market by improving its competitiveness in the U.S. “There are those who say the FTA will reduce the nation to an economic colony of the U.S., but that is such an anachronistic way of viewing it. It’s based on a dependency theory that was popular in the 1980s but is no longer relevant today,” Lee said.

He also dismissed the argument that an FTA with the U.S. is impossible because “not even Japan” has been able to conclude such a pact with Washington. “If we simply follow the lead of Japan, we will never catch up,” he said. Instead, we should follow our own course of action in concluding the FTA. Moreover, if Korea tries to close the wealth gap without promoting economic growth, it will end up with being a society where everyone gets poorer. The FTA will provide us with an opportunity to do just that by creating more national wealth, Lee added.

Lee’s remarks make sense. It would greatly help the nation if more of Roh’s aides can free themselves of an outdated way of thinking. The problem is, however, that Cheong Wa Dae is not in a place where it can encourage bickering about the FTA by putting on mere presidential secretary.

The nation relies heavily on exports, which account for more than 80 percent of the economy. We can barely maintain the status quo, let alone improve the economy, without increasing exports. What’s more, the share of Korean products in the U.S. market, which amounts to 30 percent of our trade, has dropped from 5 percent at the end of the 1980s to 2 percent. Our exports to the U.S. declined 5 percent in 2005 from the previous year, while China and India increased their share by 20-30 percent during the same period.

The government has considered these external difficulties facing the nation and concluded that the only way to break the impasse is to sign an FTA with the U.S. Now it must achieve consensus within by persuading opponents and seeking understanding and cooperation from the public. To persuade the public on an issue so critical to the nation’s survival, it is not enough for the presidential public relations secretary to make a few remarks in a press briefing. If the ruling camp thinks that is all that is needed, it only shows that it lacks a sense of proportion.