[Outlook]Sound off on FTAOn Saturday, Korea and the United States signed a free trade agreement. Negotia-tions started February last year and concluded on April 2 this year. Now, even additional negotiations are finalized so all procedures for the deal are finished.
Both of the countries faced obstacles, but they have overcome them through strong leadership and skilled negotiations. It seemed that the negotiations did not go well whenever sensitive issues surfaced, such as pharmaceuticals, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, beef and trade remedy. If the United States only pushed to open Korea’s market and if Korea was desperate to protect its domestic market, the negotiations would have failed long ago.
The two countries overcame difficulties because the United States was not blinded by its own interests but took one step back, and Korea was determined to reform its economy by opening it to more fierce competition through free trade with the United States. The deal was reached because both countries believed they are mature partners. That is, both countries believed that the FTA will offer an opportunity to increase trade and investment, and to establish a bridgehead for economic security in Northeast Asia.
Since the negotiations were concluded on April 2, there has been a thorough probe into the written agreement. Experts believe that the deal is a balanced one that reflects comparative advantages for both countries and respects their sensitive issues. In additional negotiations, the principle of balance was abided by.
As negotiations are final, now the ball enters political circles in both countries. The Korea-U.S. FTA becomes effective only when it is approved by Korea’s National Assembly and the U.S. Congress. But the political situations in both countries do not allow any optimism.
In Korea, with the December presidential election coming nearer, the ruling circle is dissolving. The main opposition Grand National Party has become the majority in the National Assembly, but it is uncertain if the party will work actively for ratification of the deal.
In the United States, with the presidential election coming next year, some presidential hopefuls are taking a stance against a free trade agreement. Four Democrats from the House of Representatives released a statement opposing the free trade agreement. President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush must exert their political capabilities once again for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement to be ratified.
U.S. political circles resist the free trade accord mostly because of the interests involving cars and beef. U.S. politicians protest the deal in part because these sectors were not discussed in the recent additional negotiations.
But at the same time, they protest the accord because they are keenly conscious of their constituencies, a very irresponsible political act. The Democrat-controlled Congress could have included these sectors in the new trade policy, which was agreed upon between Congress and the administration, but it didn’t. They have missed their chance.
Looking at political calendars from both countries, it is most desirable that the ratification be completed by this autumn.
According to my survey of 30 professors who specialize in trade, an overwhelming majority said it was good to ratify the deal before the presidential election.
After the election, there will be the general election next April. When the next president is decided, it will be nearly impossible for the incumbent president to persuade lawmakers to approve the trade deal.
It will be possible to pursue ratification after next year’s general election when the political arena is reorganized.
But then election campaigns for the U.S. presidential election will start. If things do not go smoothly, the ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA could be delayed until 2009. Benefits from cutting or eliminating tariffs will become nothing more than sleeping paper.
In late June, the Korean government released complementary measures through consultation and agreement among concerned government departments. As we experienced in the ratification procedure for the Korea-Chile free trade agreement, we must restrain ourselves from exaggerating possible damages and granting excessive compensation.
The people, the taxpayers of the country, have learned from experience and become critical about political circles’ overprotection of producers.
It is the job of experts and consumers to make politicians see a more grand goal beyond the interests of their constituencies in order to win approval for the Korea-U.S. FTA. Now is the time for experts and consumers to step forward.
*The writer is the dean of the Ewha Womans University Graduate School of International Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Byung-il