[EDITORIALS]The right prioritiesFrom Monday, the sixth round of talks on a free trade agreement with Washington is to be held in Seoul. During the last five rounds of negotiations and senior-level contacts that have occurred since last year, five key issues have become clear. These are trade remedies, cars, medical supplies, places of origin and customs clearance and quarantine. In this round of talks, these categories will be not covered. At the working-level, less controversial issues will be settled. Negotiators will attempt to settle the key issues in the seventh round of talks scheduled for February.
The two sides have not found common ground on the key issues, including trade remedies. The rice market has remained an explosive issue. Even within the governing party politicians are divided, so the administration seems to have given up any attempt to persuade people who oppose the agreement. Time is running out. The talks will be over at the end of March, three months before the Trade Promotion Authority that the U.S. negotiators received from Congress expires. The prospects for a settlement are dim.
The most essential element is the will of both sides.
At this moment the South Korean government should not be worrrying about a summit meeting between South and North Korea, which usually proves to be fruitless. Instead, it should have a summit meeting with the U.S. president, if needed, in order to advance talks on a free trade accord with Washington. As we lack natural resources and face unlimited competition, collaboration in the international market is essential.
At a meeting with reporters on Thursday, President Roh Moo-hyun said he had decided to propose a Constitutional amendment for a two-term presidency when he was enumerating the tasks he should complete during his last year in office. The amendment created more chaos and will do nothing to improve the economy. What the nation wants most is a better economy. The tasks that the president should have at the top of his list are a bilateral trade agreement with the United States and the reform of the national pension program.
President Roh said he would not neglect other issues because of the constitutional revision. But the presidential secretariat is now busy promoting the amendment. The chief of staff and other presidential secretaries are meeting religious and social leaders and appearing in TV debates. The president and his secretaries should use all this energy to negotiate with Washington and persuade South Koreans to agree to a free trade agreement.