Korea must face its duties as an economic adult
Nearly 45 years after the end of a bitter fratricidal war with the North that left it in ruins, South Korea has emerged as one of the world's most modern and dynamic economies, a manufacturing powerhouse that floods the world with high-tech goods ranging from computer chips to supertankers.
Korea is no longer a 'developing' economy. It's time, then, for it to accept the responsibilities of economic adulthood.
Later this month, a joint mission of U.S. and European carmakers will visit Korea to try to head off what they agree has become a common threat: the Korean auto industry's increasingly aggressive, and disruptive, export ambitions.
Even as new-vehicle sales in their home market appear to have peaked at about 1.5 million to 1.6 million units a year, Korean makers have installed the capacity to build 4 million cars and trucks a year.
Construction already under way will raise that to 6 million units a year shortly after the turn of the century. The difference between 6 million produced and 1.6 million sold at home? Exports.
At the same time, the Koreans have used regulations, fees and outright artifice to keep their own market effectively closed to imports. In stark contrast to Korea's export plans, the Big 3 sold only 3,900 vehicles there last year and the Europeans about 10,000.
The trade mission, headed by Andy Card, president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, and Camille Blum, chairman of ACEA, the European carmakers' association, will again try to convince Korea of its responsibilities to fair trade.
The Koreans would do well to listen - and to draw the proper inferences from being approached by a joint U.S.-European trade delegation. It's easier, after all, to block a one-way alley than a two-way avenue.
Back to the car biz
General Motors had the idea, and Ford Motor Co. was not at all reluctant to follow.
Twice in the last year, GM has reduced its involvement in the world of credit cards. Ford went GM one better: As of Dec. 31, it will stop awarding points that cardholders can use toward the purchase of Ford cars or trucks.
Both companies decided that the cost of the programs outweighed the benefits. GM and Ford were wise to pull back, but they must live with a lot of unhappy cardholders, people who feel - and rightly so - that the makers changed the rules in the middle of the game.
Credit-card promotions, like rebates, are simply gimmicks to mask high prices. There ought to be a lesson there for everyone.