Who is Han Duck-soo?
Han Duck-soo, chairman of Korea International Trade Association (KITA), is widely regarded as Korea’s leading proponent of free trade. In fact, he witnessed and took part in almost every phase of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA).
From the moment the two states started negotiations on the treaty more than six years ago until its eventual ratification by both countries’ parliaments early this year he dedicated himself to the task of bringing the KORUS FTA to a successful conclusion.
During the period, he served key governmental posts, including minister of finance and economy, prime minster and ambassador to the United States.
While serving in his ambassadorial post, he constantly lobbied for the passage of KORUS FTA by the U.S. Congress and played an instrumental role in converting several congressional opponents of the treaty into its advocates. At the height of the lobbying drive, he met as many as 20 legislators a week.
Moreover, his lobbying effort was not confined to Washington D.C alone; the press release by the Korean Embassy in October last year boasted that the ambassador had toured 57 cities in 31 states as part of efforts to persuade state officials, politicians and local entrepreneurs into accepting the free trade deal.
Such single-minded devotion to the KORUS FTA won him high praise even among his opponents. “I am still against the treaty, but I cannot but admire your tireless work and effort,” said Rep. Mike Michaud while offering a handshake to the ambassador at an official reception congratulating the successful ratification of the pact.
His domestic critics, however, still charged that signing the trade deal would make Korea more “subservient” to the whim of the U.S. Han, on his part, dismissed such accusations and expressed his confidence that the agreement would bring unparalleled benefits to both parties. A perennial optimist, Han said that even occasional setbacks could not reverse the inevitable movement toward greater economic integration.
“Not once have I harbored the slightest doubt that FTA would be beneficial to Korea,” Han said in February upon hearing the news that he had been appointed as KITA’s new head by President Lee Myungbak.
“Countries that have shut themselves from the outside world always ended up as the poorest and the most destitute among their peers.” KITA is a non-profit organization that is one of Korea’s largest umbrella groups with more than 65,000 member firms under its belt. Its primary task is to support small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs), which are hard pressed to cope with the newly changed environment caused by the FTA, in their overseas marketing and investment.
As the new head of an association that represents almost the entirety of the country’s international trade community, now his job is to consolidate the fruits of FTA for which passage he played such a prominent role. Only three months have passed since he took the chairmanship, and all eyes are upon him whether the “preacher” can prove to his opponents that the rule of free trade is indeed beneficial to all players in the field, even to SMEs.