[Viewpoint]How’s the beef, Mr. President?

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[Viewpoint]How’s the beef, Mr. President?

The new administration and the ruling party are already floundering. The people are fed up with controversies over nominations for the coming general election and the power struggle in the ruling party. Bureaucrats are straining to find the meaning of the president’s remarks and rushing to follow his directions.
In the midst of a mad dash in pursuit of economic growth, they come to a dead stop as soon as the president starts talking about stability. It seems they are busy with their bodies but their brains cannot keep up with the task.
This confusion is unlikely to subside anytime soon. It only makes us feel more heavily burdened and uneasy. We are neither worried whether the approval rating for the Lee administration will plunge nor that the ruling party will fail to secure a majority in the National Assembly.
It does not matter to us at all. How else can we answer?
The people’s hearts are as inexplicable as a haze in springtime, but harsh as the cold frost in winter once they turn their backs. But we cannot blame their fickle hearts.
The only pitiful things are the care and concern of the people who took the trouble to elect Lee Myung-bak to the office of president. It looks as if their expectations for the decade might be frustrated.
Now we are all concerned about the general elections as they draw near.
But the post-election period is potentially worse. Even after the general elections, state affairs will need to be taken care of. The president and the government should look beyond the general elections to prepare for their next steps. What is most urgent right now is the Korea-United States summit scheduled for mid-April.
For President Lee, the summit is a good opportunity to change his situation. If he achieves tangible results there, he can shake off the unresolved political burden and pave the way for the recovery of the stagnant economy. To do so, the summit talks should go beyond mere courteous greetings.
The best result he can achieve in the United States will be a promise by the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to ratify the Korea-United States free trade agreement.
Though poor at predicting the future, I am pretty sure what will happen at the dinner table at Camp David. President Lee will be the first Korean president to be invited there.
President Lee will be served the highest quality American steak and Californian wine. U.S. President George W. Bush will ask President Lee, “How does this American beef taste?”
At a glance, it sounds like an easy question, but Lee should prepare an answer before he meets Bush. Bush is actually asking him whether he will resume imports of U.S. beef.
But the answer is actually as good as already decided.
The stance of the U.S. administration and the Congress is that President Lee should not even mention the ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement without fully opening Korea up to American beef. When the greatest achievement expected from the bilateral summit talks is the conclusion of the bilateral free trade agreement, he will have no other option but to promise to resume the imports of beef.
This prediction may be displeasing because the United States seems to be using the threat of opening up the beef market to take advantage of Korea’s weakness, which is eagerness to get the ratification.
But in fact, this is not necessarily true.
Above all, the domestic beef market has a long history of being opened. Because of the outbreaks of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003, imports were temporarily suspended.
The problem is not a matter of opening up the market but the safety of the beef. But the safety of American beef had also already been inspected and received approval from the OIE, a world organization for animal health.
There are no longer any reasons to block the import of beef because of safety.
Frankly, the reason the United States is desperate to export its beef is pressure from U. S. cattle farmers, and the reason Korea is delaying the resumption of imports is opposition from Korean cattle farmers.
The issue should not be discussed as if it were a matter of sanitation or safety.
President Lee has the advantage of visiting the United States with an answer about the import of beef. He can promise to reopen an already open beef market as if doing the U.S. a favor.
President Lee’s burden, however, will be to persuade Korean domestic livestock farmers to go along with the idea.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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