[Outlook]An uncertain future

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[Outlook]An uncertain future

A bill to ratify a free trade agreement with the United States was submitted to the Korean National Assembly and considered at public hearings.
But it is unclear whether the bill will be passed during the current legislative session.
In the United States, the process of seriously discussing the pact hasn’t even started yet.
Figures in the U.S. administration and Congress have repeatedly stated that the bill won’t be considered until Korea opens its door to U.S. beef imports.
The official stance in both Seoul and Washington is that the U.S. beef issue is not linked to the trade pact.
The two countries announced this stance before the negotiations for the trade agreement started in February 2006.
Nevertheless, Washington demands that Korea lift the ban on U.S. beef imports as a precondition to ratifying the free trade pact, giving the impression that it associates the beef issue with the Kor-U.S. trade agreement.
Korea, however, must understand that opening its doors fully to U.S. beef imports does not necessarily mean the U.S. Congress will give its approval to the free trade agreement.
The core of Washington’s argument is that the beef issue must be resolved to get serious discussions on the trade deal with Seoul started.
To open our doors fully to U.S. beef is a necessary condition but some in our society tend to misunderstand it as being all that is needed.
At this stage, we should once again look at the atmosphere in the U.S. Congress.
Leaders of the Democratic Party clearly state their opposition to the free trade deal with Korea.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are negative about the deal, and unionized workers and lower-income Americans are skeptical about the benefits of globalization, including free trade agreements.
If Korea opens its door to U.S. beef but the U.S. Congress refuses to ratify the trade agreement, that will have a bad influence on Korea-U.S. relations and the new Korean administration will face political hardship.
Opponents of the free trade deal will say that Korea opened its doors to U.S. beef and earned nothing in return.
Such criticism might lead to anti-American sentiment.
To prevent such misfortune from taking place, the United States must separate the beef issue from the free trade pact with Korea.
Washington must change its official stance and allow serious consideration and discussion of the free trade agreement irregardless of the status of U.S. beef in Korea.
If the United States still wants to associate the beef issue with the trade deal to earn a concession from us, it should then promise to ratify the deal if its demand is met.
But this seems difficult in practice because the U.S. presidential election and the Korean legislative elections are nearing.
Korea must immediately resume negotiations over hygiene requirements for U.S. beef, which have been on the agenda for trade between Korea and the United States.
The talks will go a long way toward opening Korea’s doors to U.S. beef imports.
Former President Roh Moo-hyun was said to have delivered the message numerous times to President George W. Bush that our government would resolve the issue of resuming U.S. beef imports within a reasonable period of time, based on scientific grounds and international trend.
However, with shipments of U.S. beef remaining halted since October of last year, the two countries have had abnormal trade relationships, lacking the imports and exports of beef.
Korea must complete ratification of the deal and negotiations over U.S. beef imports before President Lee Myung-bak’s scheduled visit to the United States in April.
The best strategy is to do our part, pass the ball to the U.S. side and wait while it carries out its responsibility to ratify the deal in Congress.
This will effectively prevent Washington from demanding re-negotiation of the deal.
As the future of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement has proven to be uncertain, the United States will face difficulties when pursuing similar deals with other countries, and its integration into the Northeast Asian economic zone will be delayed.
Considering the possibility that Korea will pursue a bilateral trade accord with Japan and China after it concludes one with the European Union, the disadvantages to the United States will only increase.
While Korea carries out all its duties, the U.S. economic sector and public opinion leaders, with President Bush on the frontline, must do their best to see that the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is ratified in the U.S. Congress within the year.

*The writer is the president of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Kyung-tae
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