[Viewpoint]Pragmatism and negotiationWashington wants to renegotiate the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. We are all puzzled. What are the intentions of the United States? Should the Korean government agree to renegotiate? What should be renegotiated? Are we going back on what we have already agreed upon? Or is it going to be supplementary negotiation for things we haven’t covered? The questions continue.
In order to answer these questions, we need to understand the process of FTA negotiation. The negotiations for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement were concluded on April 2 and it awaits official signatures from both governments on June 30. The agreement is receiving its official signature three months after negotiations were formally concluded because it needs to be polished. Once the two governments sign the agreement, it will be the official and final free trade agreement between the two countries. When the legislatures of Korea and the United States ratify it, the free trade agreement comes into effect. From this procedural point of view, the free trade agreement between Korea and the United States has a long way to go. Unless the agreement becomes official, all the gains and benefits of free trade will continue to be distant dreams. Given that the agreement is waiting to be reviewed, refined and officially signed, why is Washington asking for a renegotiation? It is because of a power struggle between the U.S. Congress and the administration regarding trade policies. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to decide trade policies. In order to make foreign trade negotiations more effective, the Congress entrusts its power to the administration, and instead, it sets goals for the administration to pursue and demands a close consultation in the course of the negotiation.
After the Democrats took control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as a result of the election last November, the Congress has been demanding that the administration modify its existing goals. Even if a U.S. administration concludes a free trade agreement with a foreign nation, such an agreement is useless and ineffective unless it is ratified by a Congress now dominated by the Democrats. Therefore, the administration has to make compromises with the Congress. As a result, the Bush administration and the Congress agreed on new trade negotiation goals in six areas: labor, the environment, intellectual property, port security, government procurement and investment. Washington openly proclaimed that such a policy direction should be referred to as the “New Trade Policy” and it will be reflected in agreements with Panama, Colombia, Peru and Korea, with whom free trade agreements have already been concluded.
The New Trade Policy includes terrorism prevention measures, reinforcement of patents on medical and pharmaceutical products and a more strict sanction on violations of labor standards or environment agreements in order to increase trade and investment. The international community and even some Americans are skeptical that the United States, which has not even adopted the Kyoto Protocol to prevent global warming, and has failed to implement the key labor standards defined by the International Labor Organization, can ask such things of its trade partners. Also, it is an act of American unilateralism to apply this new policy immediately after an agreement has been reached.
If the United States asks Korea to renegotiate, what should Seoul do? Korea can refuse to come to the negotiation table. In this case, the U.S. Congress is highly likely to refuse ratification. If the Korean government agrees to renegotiate then it will face domestic difficulties. It will be criticized for being bullied by Washington and interest groups will use the opportunity to call for renegotiation in sensitive areas such as agricultural products and medicine.
There are two basic principles that have been leading the free trade agreement negotiation between Seoul and Washington. They are the balance of interests and respect for sensitive sectors.
The free trade agreement on April 2 was made possible because the two countries respected these two principles.
The specific demands of the United States will determine whether the entire free trade agreement will be renegotiated, additional discussion will be needed, or both. Seoul already has set a goal to secure a professional visa quota from the U.S. Congress, and Washington’s call for a renegotiation will give Korea an edge in this quest. The unilateral approach of the United States deserves to be criticized. However, if the interests of the two countries can be enhanced from renegotiation or additional negotiation, it is wise to approach this with a pragmatic attitude, regardless of the formalities. We still have more time until a free trade agreement is officially signed.
*The writer is a dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Byung-il