Published : 2013-01-18 19:34
Updated : 2013-01-18 19:34
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan returned home Friday, curtailing a visit to India from his five-nation tour that was scheduled to continue through early next week. In no time, he convened a meeting with senior ministry officials to discuss the planned transfer of its trade affairs function to an economic ministry, which was included in a government reorganization scheme announced by the presidential transition team Tuesday.
The announcement has since put the ministry in confusion. It has dealt with matters regarding external commerce for the past 15 years, since its function was expanded in 1998. Many ministry officials have grumbled about the transition committee’s decision, arguing that the current system would better serve national interests, as shown by the conclusion of free trade agreements with major countries and economic blocs.
It seemed that behind the transition team’s decision was President-elect Park Geun-hye’s view that it would be more efficient for external commerce to be handled by a ministry in charge of industrial policy.
The judgment on the proper match may differ, depending on which stance is taken. Each position appears to carry both pros and cons.
From a practical viewpoint, however, some might well raise questions about the wisdom of disrupting a system that has managed to function with few problems. As it cannot be expected that the transition team’s decision would be reversed, close coordination and cooperation are needed between the foreign affairs and industry ministries to ensure the smooth transfer of trade functions.
Still, reflection should be made on the secret way that the decision was made, keeping all relevant officials including Foreign Minister Kim in the dark. Trade negotiators are now puzzled over how to handle ongoing talks with foreign counterparts. Many of them also want to remain in the diplomatic service rather than moving to another ministry. Functional adjustments need not be handled in such a confidential manner, causing unnecessary confusion.
Foreign Minister Kim’s last-minute cancelation of his trip to India, if he might have deemed it inevitable, went against national interests. He should and could have held significant talks with Indian leaders on ways to further promote bilateral cooperation between the two countries, which marked the 40th anniversary of formal ties this year.