Short, but not so sweetEarly in the morning yesterday, a conclusion was reached over the additional negotiations for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. The negotiations proceeded unusually quickly, so the agreement was reached in a short time. That happened, in part, because prolonged negotiations threatened to make it harder for both countries to get the deal approved by their national lawmakers.
If the negotiations had extended into next month, the U.S. administration’s fast-track authority would have expired, making it harder to finalize the deal.
Still, the new conclusion, which occurred because the United States demanded additional negotiations, is not satisfactory to Korea.
For example, one change will apply a regular procedure to the settlement of labor and environmental disputes, reflecting the new U.S. trade policy approved earlier this year by the U.S. Congress. As Korea demanded, a provision to prevent this section from being misused was included. However, there is now a higher possibility that Korean companies that violate labor and environmental standards will have to pay fines or be subject to trade sanctions.
In return, the implementation of a measure to link permits for sales of generic drugs with intellectual property rights will be postponed by 18 months. This measure is expected to severely damage Korea’s pharmaceutical industry. Also, we have received a promise that the U.S. administration will use the measure to guarantee an increase in the quota for job visas. The Korean government said the interests of both countries were achieved, but many Koreans say the deal falls short of our expectations. The results of the additional negotiations are not bad enough to cause us to throw out the whole deal.
It is more important to let the advantages or disadvantages of the deal surface as quickly as possible, instead of measuring small gains and losses. If there are no major changes, what’s most important is to end the additional negotiations quickly so there won’t be any more requests for full-scale additional negotiations or any attempts to annul the entire deal by either country. In both Korea and the United States, there are opponents of the deal. If the negotiations take too long, the resistance by these interest groups will only grow stronger.
Now the ball is in the court of both countries’ legislatures. We hope legislators will prioritize the benefits that will be reached by both countries over the wishes of small interest groups.