[Viewpoint]Rangel holds the keyCharles B. Rangel, 77, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, is considered the most powerful African-American congressman in the history of the House.
A heavyweight serving his 19th term as a representative and the fourth-longest serving Democratic House member. He is also the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, one of the essential standing committees. Born in Harlem, a poor district in Manhattan, New York City, and representing the same district, he is the founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Now, when the U.S. Congress has suspended its summer session for a month, most lawmakers are on vacation or visiting their constituencies.
But Rangel went to Peru on Aug. 5 to review ratification issues involving a pending free trade agreement with Peru and Panama, which his committee will handle when the recess is over. He plans to stay in Peru and Panama until mid-August and take an extensive look at the local situations.
According to well-informed sources, Rangel’s visit to Peru is crucial to decide the fate of the bilateral free trade agreement. Sources said, “Depending on his judgment, the free trade agreement can be either ratified by the U.S. Congress or denounced.”
Rangel’s standpoint is said to affect the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement because through him, we can better understand the Democratic Party’s stance toward the agreement.
The Peruvian and Panamanian parliaments have already ratified free trade agreements with the United States. But the U.S. Congress has not yet touched them.
The U.S. Democratic Party says, “We can ratify the pacts when Peru and Panama drastically revise their labor and environmental laws to correspond to the U.S. laws.”
Rangel went to the two countries to check their will to revise the laws and see the contents of those revisions. The Democratic Party plans to deal with the ratification issues after the party gets his report.
The U.S. administration does not look approvingly at the Democratic Party. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said rightly last month, “It goes against the etiquette to one-sidedly demand sovereign states revise their domestic laws.”
The general opinion of diplomats in Washington is that the Democratic Party’s demand was excessive to the point of intervening in the domestic affairs of other sovereign states. But the reality is that the weakened Bush administration has no other way to cope with the Democratic Party, which holds the right to consent to the ratification of the free trade agreement. The situation being so, some in the administration are even saying, “We’d better help Rangel with his trips to broaden his view.”
Rangel is neither a free-trader nor a hard-line protectionist. He issued a statement in February of last year saying the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was necessary.
But regarding the free trade agreement signed by Korea and the United States, he has reserved his approval, saying, “I have had many complaints in the automobile area.”
In his office, there is a photograph of a young soldier with a short beard. It is a picture of him taken during the Korean War, where he served as a sergeant in the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion of the Second Infantry Division. When the U.S. forces retreated to the Cheongcheon River as China intervened in the war in November 1950, he narrowly escaped death. Nearly half of his battalion was killed in the battle. In the battle of Kunu-ri, Gaecheon county, South Pyeongan, Rangel led some 40 men from his unit out of a Chinese Army encirclement during three days of heavy fighting.
He truly loves Korea, often saying, “Since Kunu-ri, I have never, never had a bad day.”
We hope he will have a more open view about the free trade agreements after the trip. The annual trade volume between the United States and Peru is $8.8 billion. Compared to the United States’ economic size, with its gross domestic product exceeding $13 trillion, the volume is really small.
But the motivation behind the pursuit of the free trade agreement between the United States and Peru is that the strategic value of Peru cannot be ignored in South America, where there are more than a few anti-American leftist governments.
Korea’s value needs no explanation. We hope that during his trip Rangel will realize that given the Korea-U.S. alliance and economic exchanges, the automobiles issue is insignificant.
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Sang-il