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Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon

Posted December. 07, 2010 11:35,   


Korea is the lone country to conclude free trade agreements with the U.S., the European Union and India despite having been on the sidelines of free trade a few years ago. A sea of change has occurred since then. Citing Korea’s example, the Japanese government and media stress the need to “create a new country.” Expanding trade in Korea is a prerequisite for national development, and Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon has played a critical role in helping his country join the ranks of developed economies through free trade in a short period of time.

Kim began his free trade career as a trade representative in bilateral negotiations with the U.S. that started in June 2006. After nine rounds of marathon negotiations with Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, he struck a deal in April 2007. He was named trade minister in August 2007 and was retained because of his expertise even after the Lee Myung-bak administration was inaugurated. Kim has helped broker free trade deals with major economies such as the U.S., EU, India and Peru. In an interview with The Dong-A Ilbo in 2007, he said, “Some people have the logic that you can stand hunger but not jealousy, but if that’s the case, our country has no future. Korea will definitely grow larger if it moves toward openness and competition.”

Despite concluding supplementary negotiations on the deal with the U.S., Kim is under criticism for conducting “disgraceful negotiations.” Given that the U.S. Congress was highly unlikely to ratify the previous version of the agreement, additional negotiations were inevitable to prevent nullification of the accord. The results of the negotiations surprisingly did not put Korea at a disadvantage, however. Though concessions were made in the auto industry, a lot was gained in other sectors such as dairy and medicine. Korea also resisted U.S. pressure to further open its beef market. In essence, Kim did his best for the sake of national interests.

He has hardly been home since the free trade negotiations started. When negotiations took place in 2007, his wife went to the meeting venue with his clothes but never saw her husband. “When you’re in charge of something, you have no freedom to enjoy freedom,” Kim said. “After I do my best at this place, I dream of a time when I can live with nature.” Rather than politicians who talk about the nation and people but behave and live differently, a government official like Kim who does his best for the sake of his nation’s future is more patriotic.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)