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Trade minister cautions against protectionism

Sept 23,2017
이미지뷰
Korean Trade Minister Paik Un-gyu gives a speech during the ASEM Economic Ministers’ Meeting held at COEX in southern Seoul on Friday. [YONHAP]
Korea’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy called for a “united voice” against rising protectionism during the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on Friday, adding that the 51 member states have benefited from the multinational trading system and called on them to renew their commitment to it.

Trade Minister Paik Un-gyu expressed his concerns about rising protectionism, best illustrated by U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” policy, at an ASEM economic ministers’ meeting held at COEX in southern Seoul.

“Today, the global economy faces new challenges: protectionism is rising; and industries around the world are undergoing fundamental structural changes,” said the minister, defining the current period as “critical.”

Paik noted that ASEM’s member states should take the lead in fostering global trade and thwarting protectionism, citing the central role of the ASEM member states in the global economy. They comprise “nearly 60 percent of global GDP and 70 percent of global trade,” he said.

Paik said the ASEM meeting “could not have come at a better moment.”

On enhancing economic cooperation between Asia and Europe, Paik said there’s a need in intensifying efforts in strengthening physical and institutional infrastructure.

He remarked that Korea was pursuing a transition to green energy as it embraces the so-called fourth industrial revolution and expressed his hopes for robust cooperation among the ASEM member nations.

Paik’s speech came on the last day of the two-day economic ministers’ meeting, which was the seventh of its kind and was held for the first time in 12 years. The last was held in the Netherlands in 2005, although general ASEM summits are held every two years.

ASEM was established in 1996 to promote economic ties between Asia and Europe with 20 Asian and 31 European nations. For this year’s meeting, some 250 senior officials including ministerial-level ones attended the two-day meeting in Seoul.

It was expected earlier that Paik could sit down with his Chinese counterpart during the meeting, possibly to discuss easing Beijing’s economic retaliations against Korean companies in response to the deployment of U.S.-operated antimissile system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang. But Beijing sent Wang Shouwen, vice minister of the commerce ministry, not Zhong Shan, the minister.

Despite the problems with China, Korea’s exports have seen solid growth since the beginning of this year. The latest figures, for August, showed exports of $47 billion, 17.3 percent more than the previous year. That was only a slight decrease from July’s 19.5 percent growth over the previous year.

In fact, according to a recent WTO report, Korea’s export growth in the first seven months was the sharpest among the world’s top 10 exporters. During that period, Korea’s exports grew 16.3 percent compared to the previous year, while China, the world’s largest exporter, came in second with 8.3 percent growth. The United States came in fourth, growing 6.6 percent.

However, the continuing retaliation by China as well as growing protectionism in the United States including Trump’s repeated threat to terminate the bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries, are the two greatest threats to Korea’s exports. China and the United States are Korea’s biggest trading partners.

As of 2016, China took 25 percent of Korea’s overall exports, and the U.S. took 13.4 percent. The EU is the third-largest trading partner, taking 9.4 percent.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]