[EDITORIALS]No FTA without consensus

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[EDITORIALS]No FTA without consensus

The second round of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement talks begin today in Seoul. The two sides will negotiate the details of a consolidated text of an agreement they agreed on in Washington last month.
But the talks are expected to be met by fierce opposition from some Koreans. Civic groups and farm organizations opposing the agreement demonstrated on Saturday and are planning more protests until the second round of talks ends in an attempt to force the government to break them off.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has also decided to stage a partial strike on Wednesday in order to deter the negotiations.
Some politicians are showing signs of joining the opposition to the negotiations, raising fears that it may be premature for Korea to be signing a free trade agreement with the States. Negotiations with domestic opposition groups are becoming as difficult as the talks themselves.
The ministers of six government agencies, including Deputy Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, released a joint statement on Friday asking opposition groups to refrain from illegal demonstrations, but there are no guarantees of a peaceful finish to a demonstration with the tens of thousands of people gathered in central Seoul.
There is the possibility of a violent uprising, like the one that occurred in Yeouido last year involving farm groups.
What is more serious than the demonstrations is the failure of the Korean government to persuade the people of the necessity and appropriateness of the agreement. Without a national consensus, not only is the country’s negotiating ability weakened, but it will be difficult to persuade opposition groups. There could be national confusion and disorder even if the talks come to a successful conclusion.
The government insists that it has collected public opinion through several public hearings, but cannot hide its surprise at the opposition movement that is taking place.
Under the current circumstances, it is difficult to ensure normal negotiations.
The government cannot persuade the opposition groups and general public with vague statistical data that supposedly shows that 50 to 60 percent of Koreans support the negotiations. It must prepare detailed countermeasures and persuade the people with the public relations offices that it is so proud of. Once again, concluding a free trade agreement without national support is a hopeless task.
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