To boost the stagnant global economy and reinstate the multilateral trade framework, it’s crucial for Korea to play the role of an international arbitrator, bridging developed and developing countries, according to Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho.
“Despite the general consensus on lifting trade barriers and opening markets, the talks on multilateral trade have seen little progress over the past 10 years,” Bark told The Korea Herald in an interview.
“Such depression created a rift between developed and developing countries, which is why an intermediate leadership has come to be in need in the global trade forum.”
|Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
In late December, Bark joined the race for the secretary-general position of the World Trade Organization, seeking to succeed the incumbent Pascal Ramy, who has served the trade body for two consecutive terms over the past eight years.
Bark’s key rivals are from Latin American states such as Mexico and Brazil, as well as Asian and African states, including Indonesia, Jordan, Ghana and Kenya.
The nine contestants are to kick off their official campaign period on Monday, with a three-day session during which they will address the WTO ambassadors representing each of the 154 member states.
The final result will be announced by May 31 at the latest.
“I see this challenge as a task assigned to me by the Korean government, rather than my personal career development,” he said.
As a relatively small, trade-focused state, Korea became one of the greatest beneficiaries of the free trade drift, especially under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade back in the 1960-70s, the minister explained.
“It is now time for us to play a more active role in the world trade arena,” he said.
Also, a Korean WTO chief will be significant to many underdeveloped member states, he added.
“Our country established a successful precedent by overcoming the post-war destitution and rising as one of the world’s leading economic powers,” Bark said.
“If I were to chair the trade organization, I could offer hope to emerging economies that they, too, may reach out further.”
Another key concept in this year’s WTO election, Bark added, is the balance of power.
“The years-long deadlock in the Doha Development Agenda negotiation caused a rift between developed and developing countries,” he said.
“Korea, positioned between the two opposing groups, may effectively revitalize communication in the long-stagnant trade forum.“
Talking of the necessary qualifications as the WTO chief, Bark emphasized his diversified experience in the domestic trade sector.
“As trade minister, I have focused on promoting trade and opening domestic markets but during my years in the Korea Trade Commission, I also protected the local economy from unfair trade practices,” he said.
“These opposed roles have allowed me the insight to understand the developed states’ active trade initiative and the developing states’ defensive stance at the same time.”
Despite the general belief that bilateral pacts violate the spirit of multilateral trade, Korea’s active involvement in free trade agreements will not be an obstacle to the WTO election, he also said.
“Korea’s major trade pacts, such as the Korea-EU or Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreements, have always abided by the WTO discipline,” Bark said.
Also, the general FTA trend is now shifting to a more comprehensible format, such as the Korea-China-Japan FTA or the ASEAN FTA, which will later add up to a multilateral system, according to the trade chief.
“Bilateralism and multilateralism are compatible in a broader sense, and this will be one of the key messages in my speech,” he said.
One of the domestic hurdles for Bark is the recent decision by the presidential transition committee to relocate the trade department from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Energy.
“The unexpected reshuffle did agitate the trade sector but will not affect our preparations for the WTO race,” he said.
This December, the WTO is slated to hold its ninth biyearly trade minister meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
“This will be an opportunity for the WTO to exercise its leverage in the global community,” Bark said. “My vision is to establish trade order and lead the organization into like a well-tuned orchestra.”
By Bae Hyun-jung (email@example.com