FM shortens trip to deal with ministry reorganization
Published : 2013-01-16 21:58
Updated : 2013-01-16 21:58
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan has decided to cancel his planned visit to India, the final leg of his ongoing five-nation trip to Africa and Asia, and will return home later this week in view of a decision that will force the ministry to lose its jurisdiction over trade, an official said Wednesday.
The Tuesday decision by President-elect Park Geun-hye's transition team to hand over the ministry's trade division to the commerce ministry has sent shock waves through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade because it took diplomats by surprise.
Kim embarked on the five-nation tour of Africa and Asia last Saturday, but was forced to call off a trip to India and return home Friday to deal with the ministry's reorganization, the senior ministry official said. Kim had been scheduled to return next Tuesday.
"Minister Kim decided to return home earlier than scheduled after being briefed about the situation," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Kim is expected to come up with plans following the planned handover of the trade division to the commerce ministry, according to the official.
The foreign ministry gained its jurisdiction over trade in 1998 and diplomats have touted their role in providing collaborative efforts in diplomacy and trade, while helping local firms make inroads into overseas markets.
The decision to merge the trade division into the Ministry of Knowledge Economy is part of incoming President Park Geun-hye's plan to reorganize the government with a focus on coping with the global economic slump.
Announcing the decision, Yoo Min-bong, a senior official at the transition team, said the move is aimed at increasing "professional trade capacity."
"It is expected to help protect the national interest and allow the government to comprehensively engage with trade negotiations and follow local measures," Yoo told reporters.
The new structure, which is subject to parliamentary approval, was the first step in forming the incoming government. Park is set to take office on Feb. 25.
Other than the announcement, it is far from certain at this stage to know how many diplomats involved in trade would be transferred to the commerce ministry.
An official at the foreign ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was "too confused" by the transition team's surprise decision.
"I need some time because I was arranging schedules for trade affairs with foreign countries," the official said. "I was too confused because the announcement was made with such suddenness."
South Korea, a resource-poor nation that relies mainly on exports for economic growth, has been aggressively seeking free trade accords with foreign countries to expand what outgoing President Lee Myung-bak calls the country's "economic territory."
As the fourth-largest Asian economy, South Korea has eight FTAs already in effect, including those with the United States, the European Union and India, and is in negotiations with seven other nations including Turkey, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
Another foreign ministry official expressed concern that the ministry's role may be scaled back.
"The foreign ministry's role may be limited to protocol and consular affairs," the official said. (Yonhap News)