The presidential transition team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade clashed on Monday as the plans to remove trade-related functions from the Foreign Ministry surfaced as the main sticking point for the National Assembly.
Under President-elect Park Geun-hye’s government reorganization plans, trade functions will be transferred to the new Ministry of Industry, Trade and Energy, which will be formed from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.
The plan, which the Foreign Ministry had opposed from the start, took the main stage in the National Assembly following Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan’s comment that revising the related regulations to transfer trade-related functions to the new ministry was tantamount to “shaking the foundations of the constitution.”
|Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan (right) confers with Minister of Trade Bark Tae-ho at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee meeting on Monday. (Yonhap News)|
Kim’s statement incited strong criticism from the presidential transition committee.
“Authority on trade issues can be transferred to the Ministry Industry, Resource and Energy if the Act on the Appointment and Powers of Government Delegates and Special Envoys is revised,” transition committee’s deputy chief Rep. Chin Young of the Saenuri Party said.
“Speaking as though the Foreign Ministry is given the authority under the Constitution and referring to (the revision) as shaking the Constitution, the statement is unconstitutional sophistry and ministry-egotism.”
The Foreign Minister also raised concerns that the change could generate the view that Korea was reverting to protectionist policies in the international community.
After the plans were released last month, the Foreign Ministry made its opposition clear by saying that transferring trade functions to the Industry Ministry went against international trends and stifled the synergy between political and economic diplomacy. The Foreign Ministry also claimed the Industry Ministry would have limitations in trade negotiations as its other functions were dedicated to a specific industry.
Members of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee from both ruling and opposition parties expressed negative views about the plans.
“The biggest issues in trade diplomacy include the service industry, international claims systems and agricultural products. If trade functions are transferred to the manufacturing industry-focused Ministry of Knowledge Economy, there will be limitations,” Rep. Choung Byoung-gug of the Saenuri Party said.
The main opposition Democratic United Party went a step further, adopting opposition to the plans as its official position.
“(The party’s) position is that an industry-related ministry overseeing trade functions could bring difficulties in moderating between interests of various sectors,” the DUP said in a statement.
The DUP also said that the change would be “suitable for an era of development dictatorship.”
“As such, a ‘trade administration’ should be established under the prime minister, or the current form of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade should be maintained.”
The president-elect, however, appears adamant about her plans and has played down the concerns despite objections pitched to her directly.
“Although removing trade functions to allow the (foreign) ministry to focus on security issues is good in itself, transferring (trade functions) to (a ministry concerned with) industry does not seem right,” Saenuri Party lawmaker and former trade minister Rep. Kim Jong-hoon said in a meeting with Park on Sunday.
Park, however, dismissed the Saenuri lawmaker’s concerns, saying that an industry-related ministry overseeing trade issues “would not be particularly problematic.”
“There will be no major problems if the new government removes ministry-egotism and prevents barriers from forming between the different ministries,” Park was quoted as saying in the local media.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org