Evan Ramstad and Sungha Park explore deeper issues underlying the Korean beef protests: South Korean Protests Show
Depth of Anger, Challenge President (Wall Street Journal, July 3). They argue that, although ostensibly about beef, the demonstrations reflected deep popular frustration with rising income inequality and poverty, and competitive pressures in the labor market, and competitive foreign pressure in agricultural markets:
"Democratization has been a disappointment," says Yoon Geum-soon, who runs a small fruit farm and is active in a women's rights group staging protests. "All the wealth goes to a few people, while others work hard for too little."
When she joined a similar protest movement that brought democracy to South Korea in 1987, the 48-year-old Mrs. Yoon says she expected that not only would the public elect its own government but also that all Koreans would get wealthier together. Instead, her business is failing as cheaper imported fruit reduces prices, and she fears she won't be able to send her teenage twins to college next year....
Mrs. Yoon, the farmer, is annoyed that things are still so tough for her children. When South Korea joined the World Trade Organization and opened its fruit market in January 1995, the government lent Mrs. Yoon 15 million won (about $15,000) at a 3% interest rate, and her family built greenhouses that year.
But she says that imported oranges from California proved to be too much competition for her Korean yellow melons. Then, energy prices rose and forced her to shut the greenhouses in 1996. Despite 14-hour working days, she was left with debts that she's coping with today.
"My twins are now in the third grade of high school," she says, which means they face college-entrance exams in November. "If they don't get into college, it's a worry for their future. But if they do, that's a worry too, as I have no idea how I would be able to pay the tuition."
Marcus Noland and Erik Weeks looked at some 52 published indices of Korean institutional health (measures of preceptions of corruption, protectionism, discrimination, strenght of auditing and reporting standards, as so on) and compared them to those for other countries: Korean Institutional Reform in Comparative Perspective (Korean Economic Institute Academic Paper Series, May 2008).
Korea is arguably the premier development success story of the last half century. Despite this success, there has been a nagging sense among many observers that the development of Korea’s economic and political institutions has not kept pace with the breakneck tempo of economic growth.
Although the data are noisy, and Korea generally underperforms modestly relative to its level of per capita income, the country is not an outlier; and on most indicators Korea is converging on global norms.
It would be hard to argue on the basis of this analysis that institutional development has led economic growth in Korea.
Noland and Weeks point to the importance of international norms as an "external policy anchor":
The incoming President of Korea described some of his economic program for the foreign business community at a meeting on the 15th: Lee pledges full gov't support for foreign investors (Korea.net, January 16). He'd like to double Korean per capita income in ten years:
Gyeonggi-Do is Korea's most heavily populated province (location shown on the map). Jane Han has written a story for the Korea Times highlighting Governor, Kim Moon-soo's efforts at attracting foreign investment: Gyeonggi Province Beckons Foreign Investors (Oct 25, 2007). Kim thinks the FTA will help, and looks forward to U.S. ratification sometime before next July:
The recently sealed Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA), which still awaits ratification from both sides, will also give a boost in bilateral trade, said Kim.
U.S. companies invested about $1.7 billion in Gyeonggi in 2006. The province is optimistic that figures will turn upward when the trade accord goes into effect.
Concerning when the ratification will take place, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler _ who was Washington's chief negotiator, said during her recent visit to Korea that the approval process is estimated to be over in the U.S. by the early half of next year.