[EDITORIAL] Trade accord with U.S.
Security has been so dominant in the past in Seoul’s relations with Washington, its sole military ally, that other crucial agenda items have often failed to draw adequate attention from top South Korean policymakers. With tensions markedly reduced between South and North Korea now, it is time for Seoul to expand cooperative ties in other areas as well, notably in the economic field.
Welcomed in this regard are the remarks by the new South Korean ambassador to Washington, Lee Tae-sik, who has recently said he has set his sights on concluding a free trade agreement with the United States at an early date. His remarks are all the more refreshing as they have come from one of the career diplomats, many of them preoccupied with political and security issues.
As he has noted, it is time to build a new trading system with the United States, with bilateral trade exceeding $70 billion a year. It goes without saying that a free trade agreement, which would eliminate many of the barriers to trade and investment, should be placed in the center of the new trading system.
Regrettably, however, there has been much talk but little action. The major obstacle has been the "screen quota," or a statutory obligation for each cinema to show Korean films for 146 days in a year. As a condition for starting negotiations, Washington has been demanding that the screen quota be abolished or drastically reduced.
It is six months since the chairman of the Fair Trade Commission said the administration started studying a reduction in the screen quota. But little action has since been taken in the face of fierce resistance from the film industry, which claims it needs continued protection to survive harsh competition from abroad, in particular from Hollywood.
But is it necessary to keep the screen quota intact when Korean filmmakers are capable of producing blockbusters, each of them drawing several millions of moviegoers ? The administration is urged to take action to wean them from overprotection and pave the way for a free trade agreement as soon as possible.