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Oriental doctors protest FTA talks

Korea Herald | 2007.01.10

Oriental doctors protest FTA talks

By Shin Hae-in

Despite the government yesterday ruling out the possibility of opening the Oriental medicine market in ongoing free trade talks with the United States, Korea’s doctors are still planning to stage protests.

"From all we can see, market opening is unlikely to happen over many complicated issues such as different qualification standards and education procedures between Korea and the United States," Vice Health and Welfare Minister Byun Jae-jin said yesterday. "Most of all, Korea is not short of Oriental medicine doctors, which gives us no need of a market opening."

After reports which predicted a possible opening of Korea’s Oriental medicine market, Oriental medicine doctors here have moved to fend off the measure.

More than 5,000 members of the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine are to stage a protest rally in front of the government complex in Gwacheon today. About 2,500 Oriental medicine students held a demonstration there last month.

Washington reportedly asked Seoul to allow its Oriental medical doctors to practice here without having to obtain a local business license in the fifth round of free trade talks last month.

The proposal was made in exchange for Seoul’s demand for a mutual recognition of business qualifications in seven pharmaceutical professions including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists.

Oriental medical doctors have been resisting the idea, fearing the deal would open the way for not only U.S.-based doctors, but also Chinese doctors.

Should Korea accept Washington’s demand, it will naturally face mounting pressure by China to open up its market when it seeks a free trade agreement with the neighboring country, they assert.

Vice Minister Byun said that the reports had been exaggerated, resulting in overreaction from Oriental medicine circles.

"In the fifth round of the free trade talks, Washington only briefly mentioned that it would review its Oriental medicine sector’s interest in the market opening and let us know the result in the next round of talks," he said.

The vice minister also made clear that the government would address all requests and opinions of the Oriental medicine circle in the sixth round of talks scheduled in Seoul from Jan. 15.

"It is deeply regretful that doctors are planning to go on with their protest despite the government’s policy to fully address their request," he said. "We will strive to minimize the citizens’ inconvenience during the demonstration by operating public Oriental medicine clinics."

Seoul and Washington have held five rounds of discussions so far on the proposed FTA, aiming to conclude the talks by March 2007 at the latest. The pharmaceutical sector is one of the most sensitive issues on the negotiating table, along with agriculture and automobiles.


 source: Korea Herald