Commerce Minister upbeat on Korea-Japan FTA

Korea Herald, Seoul

10 August 2004

By Park Chung-a

Staff Reporter

Commerce-Industry-Energy Minister Lee Hee-beom on Tuesday expressed the Korean government’s strong desire to complete the Korea-Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

In a meeting organized by the Seoul Japan Club (SJC), an association of Japanese corporations in Korea, headed by Takasugi Nobuya, at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Minister Lee said that the Korea-Japan FTA will be a good opportunity to enhance both countries’ industrial power and expand bilateral investment.

Minister Lee stressed the importance of the ongoing negotiations on the FTA, saying that early establishment of bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries can be a stepping-stone to achieve trilateral cooperation among Korea, China and Japan in the future.

He pointed out that while there is active regional cooperation going on among European countries, the United States and South American countries through various treaties, including NAFTA and the European Union, there is a lack of regional cooperation among North-East Asian nations such as Korea, Japan and China.

"Northeast Asia is the most dynamic region in the world with unlimited potential. Its population accounts for 24 percent of the entire world and accounts for 19 percent of the world’s total GDP. It is urgent for us to pursue regional cooperation in this area in order to effectively deal with the ever-expanding regionalism of other countries and become a leading force in the world economy," the minister said.

"In order for FTA negotiations to receive wide support from the public as well as corporations and small firms, profits that both sides will gain from the FTA should be balanced. Also, active leadership from Japan is required for better economic cooperation on business issues such as tariff concessions, removal of Japan’s non-tariff wall and the transfer of industrial technology,"he added.

As for Korea’s hostile labor-management relationship, which is considered as disturbance by foreign investors, the minister emphasized that the labor-management relationship is reaching toward a rational solution through active communication between both sides. He also pointed out that the Democratic Labor Party could play a meditating role between labor and management, leading them to solve problems through negotiation and communication.

Meanwhile, the SJC submitted a document to the minister, hoping that the Korean government would improve domestic investment conditions for Japanese corporations in Korea, focusing on six areas, including labor policy, labor-management relationship, tax system and finance.

Labor-related issues such as improvement of holiday policies and retirement grants, topped the requests made by the SJC. Improvement on the basic living environment such as traffic systems, taxi services and complicated Internet service registration was found to be the second most important request for Japanese corporations in Korea, according to the proposal.

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