[Viewpoint]Calming beef hysteriaAlthough I majored in trade and commerce law and negotiation theory, I did not pay much attention to the recent Korea-U.S. beef negotiations.
Since the issue of resuming imports of U.S. beef was raised by the previous government, I thought working-level officials must have made preparations that would still be valuable regardless of the change of government.
I also thought some people would react against the resumption of American beef imports.
However, I could not help but feel embarrassed when malicious rumors about mad cow disease started to spread, and serious discussion about the protection of Korean farmers from U.S. beef imports were ignored.
Although there is no outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States, Korean people have engaged in a hot debate over it, as if beef that carries the disease is already on our dinner tables. It is neither rational nor reasonable.
After U.S. beef imports were stopped in 2003 after an outbreak of mad cow disease, the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, began monitoring the matter and ruled recently that the United States could control the disease.
Therefore, it was only a matter of time before U.S. beef imports would be resumed.
All that the Korean government has been doing in recent negotiations has been to engage in a tug-of-war over the conditions for import authorization so that the lives and safety of the Korean people are guaranteed.
However, the measures Korea could take in case of a mad cow disease outbreak in the U.S. were left unaddressed.
According to the most recent agreement, Korea would have to wait for the OIE to make a ruling before it could stop imports if a U.S. outbreak occurred. The OIE’s judgment is recognized by the World Trade Organization.
However, considering the potential seriousness of the situation, it is a problem that the agreement is preventing Korea from taking immediate steps.
Since American Trade Representative Susan Schwab on May 12 confirmed Korea’s right to quarantine in accordance with the WTO regulations, there is no need to discuss a hypothetical mad-cow-disease outbreak in the United States.
Regulations such as Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the hygiene and quarantine action agreement are applicable regardless of whether Korea demands this or whether the United States accepts such demands.
However, they emerged as if they were some kind of hidden solution after the situation became worse.
This almost makes Korea, a country that claims to be one of trade and commerce, a laughing-stock.
Frankly speaking, it is difficult to give high marks to the recent beef deal because of problems such as mistranslations exist.
But any negotiation, whether it is between states or between companies, is bound to have some sort of problem when seen in hindsight.
Many Koreans probably feel at a loss over the situation.
It may sound paradoxical, but the problems caused by Korea-U.S. beef negotiations can be solved by the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
The regulation on hygiene and quarantine measures stipulated in Chapter 8 of the Korea-U.S. FTA define a systematic procedure for addressing issues of hygiene and quarantine that crop up between Korea and the United States.
Pursuant to Chapter 8, the problems many Korean people worry about will be solved.
Therefore, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement provides a solution to disputes among Korean people, assuming that U.S. beef imports resume.
The National Assembly, the government and experts now have to deal with a fundamental problem ? namely, compensating damages and strengthening the competitiveness of farmers who raise Korean cattle.
And we should discuss such issues as the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and relationships with the United States openly.
In this respect, the National Assembly should not cling to the issue of U.S. beef negotiations.
It must deliberate the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement properly.
There is more than enough time for such deliberations before the current National Assembly session ends on Saturday.
A monk, in an interview with the press, once said, “If all the monks in the world tapped wooden gongs, how could we live with the noise?” I do not want to belittle the sincerity of his statement, but I believe the same applies to the attitudes of the Korean people to the Korea-U.S. beef deal.
The government should acknowledge its responsibility for mistakes made during negotiations as soon as possible, and each of us should do what we can to make the imports possible.
There is no need for all of us to be caught up in the commotion caused by the deal any more.
by Park No-hyoung
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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