President Moon Jae-in on Sunday named his first chief trade negotiator, readying for possible talks with the US over the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement.
The new trade minister, whose position will be that of a vice minister, is Kim Hyun-chong, a graduate of Columbia Law School and professor of language and trade at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Last year Kim was also appointed a new member of the World Trade Organization‘s dispute settlement body for Korea, which doles out final decisions on trade disputes between governments, and is currently serving a four-year term.
Kim Hyun-chong returns to the chief trade negotiator’s post, which was recently resurrected in the administration’s government reorganization, after nearly a decade since he led the Korea-US FTA negotiations.
Although two presidents have come and gone, handling the Korea-US FTA is likely to be one of the biggest tasks Kim Hyun-chong will face.
Since the Korea-US summit in June, the US has formally requested Seoul open talks to discuss possible amendments to the Korea-US FTA. Although far from an overhaul apparently sought by US President Donald Trump, the proposed talks would put the pact under close scrutiny.
While the new trade minister’s experience in negotiating trade pacts is undisputable, critics have honed in on his pro-business attitude and the allegedly pro-US stance he took in initial FTA negotiations.
The minor left-wing Justice Party has already made its opposition to Kim Hyun-chong’s possible appointment clear, while a farmers’ association warned it would interpret his appointment as Moon “betraying the candlelight revolution,” referring to the citizens’ movement that ousted former President Park and eventually led to Moon’s ascent to the presidency.
His stint at Samsung Group from 2009 to 2011 has also raised questions, with former Samsung Group lawyer Kim Yong-chul’s book claiming that the new trade minister revealed highly pro-business views.
In his book, Kim Yong-chul quoted Kim Hyun-chong as saying “protecting corporation’s interests is protecting national interests,” adding that such views were behind Kim Hyun-chong “pushing policies that are beneficial only to large companies.”
Along with Kim Hyun-chong, Moon named prosecutor-turned-lawyer Kim Yung-moon to head the Korea Customs Service.
Kim Young-moon served as former chief prosecutor at the Daegu District Public Prosecutor’s Office and is currently a partner at Jipyoung Law Firm.
The unusual choice of a former prosecutor has been taken as a sign that the government will push for a sweeping reform of the customs service, which has recently become mired in allegations of corruption.
“He was known as an expert in investigating cutting-edge crimes while serving as a prosecutor,” Yoon Young-chan, Cheong Wa Dae’s chief public relations officer said.
“His clean and strong leadership will allow the customs office to be reborn as an organization trusted by the people and the corporate community.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)