Oriental medical doctors resist FTA

Korea Herald | 18 December 2006

Oriental medical doctors resist FTA

By Jin Hyun-joo

Seoul’s move to open its market for oriental medicine has set off a fierce protest from local doctors who are concerned about increased competition in an already saturated market.

The Association of Korean Oriental Medicine said yesterday it will shortly organize an emergency taskforce to block the market opening currently under discussion between Korea and the United States as part of their negotiations for a free trade agreement.

Washington has reportedly asked Seoul to allow its medical doctors to practice here without having to obtain a new local business license.

The proposal was made in exchange for Seoul’s demand for a mutual recognition of business qualifications in 17 professions including medical doctors, nurses, architects and engineers.

Doctors fear that the deal would open the way for not only U.S.-based doctors, but Chinese doctors to flood in the domestic market.

If Korea accepts the U.S. request, they said, the country will face similar pressure in future free trade talks with China, whose oriental medicine sector is regarded as far more competitive than Korea’s.

"We will use every means possible to fend off the government’s irresponsible move that will take public health hostage," the lobby for oriental medicine doctors said in a statement.

It will establish a task force this week to discuss measures against the FTA.

The group said the agreement would threaten the health of Korean people, claiming that American oriental doctors receive less training than their Korean counterparts.

American oriental doctors study for three or four years - which is shorter than Korea’s six-year curriculum. In Korea, entering oriental medicine schools is highly competitive, while it is considered to be not quite so challenging in the United States.

There is also a glut in the oriental medicine market, the association said. In Korea, there are some 17,000 oriental medical doctors.

The number of oriental doctors in the United States is estimated to exceed 60,000, with Korean-Americans accounting for 16,000 and Chinese-Americans for 20,000. Some 49 universities in the United States grant acupuncture and oriental medicine degrees.

The bilateral agreement is expected to shake up the domestic oriental medical market which has been dominated by graduates of 11 oriental medicine universities in Korea. American doctors with Korean and Chinese ethnic backgrounds are likely to rush to Korea where oriental doctors enjoy high social status and make decent money.

Despite a backlash from oriental doctors, the government is moving to strike so-called mutual recognition agreements with the United States.

"It is hard to reject the only demand the United States makes regarding the MRA while we are calling for the MRA in 17 fields," a government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.

If Korea accepts the U.S. demand, it is expected to face mounting pressure by China to open up its market when it seeks a free trade agreement with the neighboring country, expects say.

The Korea-U.S. FTA talks were originally slated to have been completed in the fifth round, which ended Dec. 8. But another round has been set for Jan. 16 as the negotiations hit an impasse over two hotly debated issues - U.S. anti-dumping laws and patent protections for U.S. pharmaceutical companies.

Korea is the seventh-largest market for the United States, with bilateral trade amounting to $72 billion last year. The United States is South Korea’s second-largest export market, accounting for 17 percent of its total shipments.

source: Korea Herald