South Korea has some lessons Trump should heed

Presidents Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump met at the White House in mid-August. Mr Trump is supposedly considering calling off a free trade agreement under negotiation. (New York Times photo)

Advisers seem to have convinced US President Donald Trump not to trash the country's free-trade agreement with South Korea -- for now. Mr Trump himself still seems intent on extracting concessions from the Koreans and could yet withdraw from the deal. The irony is that, more than any other, South Korea's own story shows how foolish that would be.

Korea's postwar rise may be the world's most striking testament to the power of trade to create jobs and amass wealth. Back in the 1960s, economists wrestled with the question of how to alleviate crushing poverty throughout much of the developing world, especially in newly formed nation-states in Africa and Asia that had recently emerged from the colonial era. At the time, South Korea's gross national income per capita was about $120, on par with Kenya and Madagascar.

The prevailing wisdom held that the global economy was rigged against poor countries and the only way they could escape destitution was by disengaging from it. If their economies remained tied to those of their former colonial overlords, emerging nations would be unable to develop the manufacturing and other industries they needed to progress.

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