[Viewpoint]Hearty cheers all around for FTAAt 3:30 a.m. on March 31, the final, intense negotiations for a free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States were underway on the second floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Rain was pouring down outside. Ms. Jung, a working-level government official and team member of the agricultural division, entered the Korean team’s contingency planning room, looking tired and rummaging through boxes.
“What’re you looking for?” someone said.
She replied, “I’ve just extended the tariff exemption period for beef up to 13 years. The Americans, too, are completely exhausted. We are pushing ahead our plan, but I am so hungry. I wonder if there is anything to eat.” She returned to work hungry because the pre-purchased 100 cups of instant noodles had already run out. The Korean agricultural team had done its best until early in the morning to further extend the exemption period two more years, up to 15 years.
I hope this case doesn’t sound too dramatic. But after I watched the talks until dawn for a few days together with other reporters in the news office, my impression of the negotiating teams is this: The Korean negotiation teams did their best, indeed.
Frankly, it is hard to say so because something the teams may have done wrong could turn up later. But the negotiations that proceeded for about 80 hours from March 30 to April 2 were certainly dramatic.
Kim Hyun-jong, South Korea’s trade minister, and Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea’s chief free trade negotiator, did a good job, leaving their seats several times to confront the world’s strongest country’s delegations, which were well versed in negotiation. The leading negotiators had to preserve their pride. They also reportedly appeased the U.S. negotiators by making some concessions when the negotiations came to a rupture among the 17 division teams. This is a negotiation tactic.
Our negotiation teams, consisting of about 200 people, had a really hard time, too. When the talks made little progress, the U.S. negotiation team members went back to their hotel rooms to sleep or take a shower. But for South Korean negotiation teams, rooms were given only to the two chief negotiators, Kim Hyun-jong and Kim Jong-hoon. So, when the negotiations were delayed by one or two hours, to 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, the heads of the bureau slept for a short while on the couch and the staff dozed off sitting in chairs. Most people know how hard they worked in the negotiations.
This is how the free trade pact was made between South Korea and the United States. I’d like to believe that those who criticize the conclusion of the agreement do so based on their patriotism. But Koreans are not ordinary people. No country is smarter or more hard working than Korea. The country, which received aid from the Philippines to construct buildings in the 1960s, has now become the world’s 11th-largest economy. As we deal with the United States, let’s foster competitiveness as fast as possible. Based on this, let’s expand our dealings to China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe.
More than a century ago, foreign forces forced their way into our land to open up our doors. But this time, we opened up our doors to invite them as friends and guests. If we had not done so, we would have undergone the same situation as our ancestors.
More than anything else, we cannot help but give a big hand to President Roh Moo-hyun. He lost many things. He heard from his supporters that he was a “betrayer.” Some broadcasters, news outlets, and the Internet media that had overtly supported him joined the line of attackers. It is truly hard for politicians to endure such treatment. No other politician but Roh would have been able to do so.
That is political leadership. Former President Park Chung Hee was severely criticized when he started building the Gyeongbu Expressway and founded the steel maker Posco in 1968.
He was also condemned when he built the Masan free trade zone in 1970. It was thanks to his determination that once bald mountains have become as wooded as they are these days. These facts cannot be denied, even if he is hated. I think Roh may now properly understand the “solitude of the decision-maker.”
I believe that Roh’s determination to enter the free trade agreement with the United States will be evaluated well throughout history.
The pact is all the more momentous because it was made amid criticism by supporters. Ignoring and disparaging his achievement just because he has been hated is only what narrow-minded people do. Big cheers for the president and the free trade agreement negotiation teams.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk