Editorial - Support Roh on trade pact
7 March 2006
Korea and the United States held their first preparatory talks on a free trade agreement in Seoul yesterday. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome during the formal negotiations, but the mere fact the talks have officially begun is meaningful in itself.
The importance and necessity of a Korea-U.S. free trade deal cannot be overstated. A study showed that if a deal is reached, the national income could increase by 18 trillion won ($18 billion) and 260,000 new jobs could be created. Also, by replacing expensive imported raw materials from Japan with less expensive U.S. products, the trade deficit against Japan could be reduced. By opening our service industry, we will have more advanced service providers, which will in turn generate more jobs and income.
Besides, with many nations forming economic blocs through free trade agreements, securing a deal with the United States, the world’s largest economy, has become a top priority for Korea, which relies heavily on exports for its economic health. In other words, we need a pact with the United States not because it is pressuring us to sign a deal, but because it is necessary for our livelihoods.
There are also benefits not directly related to economics. Given our location between China and Japan, regional security is a precondition for our survival. Adding North Korea’s nuclear issues to that, the role of the United States in Northeast Asian security is likely to grow much more significant. A Korea-U.S. free trade deal, in that sense, provides strategic importance as well.
It appears that President Roh Moo-hyun seems to appreciate the meaning of a trade pact with the United States. Otherwise, he would not have said publicly that he would see to it that the deal is completed before his term expires. Mr. Roh recently met with his cabinet staff and explained to those concerned about damages from opening markets about the inevitability of signing a free trade agreement with the United States.
As our free trade negotiations with Chile proved, the real challenge lies in negotiating with and persuading the Korean people, rather than in talking with U.S. trade officials. Mr. Roh understands this difficulty. He has said that for the remainder of his term, how to deal with the free trade talks will be a monumental event of his administration.
Given the difficulty of the matter, we desperately need strong and decisive leadership from our chief executive. Considering the political schedule ahead, it is safe to assume that the Korea-U.S. agreement will not be accomplished without strong presidential leadership.
In this sense, public support for the deal by Agriculture Minister Park Hong-soo, a former farmer activist, must be encouraging to Mr. Roh. In an exclusive interview with JoongAng Ilbo, Mr. Park said, "Opening the market through free trade agreements is our duty to all Koreans and future generations," and added "while we should establish measures to help develop our agricultural sector, we should not move away from a free trade pact with the United States."
The agricultural sector remains the most sensitive area in the negotiations, and support for the pact by Mr. Park, who is in charge of dealing with that very issue, is very courageous indeed. We hope other cabinet ministers, like Mr. Park, will have faith in the grand plan for the nation and help the president complete a Korea-U.S. trade pact.