[Viewpoint]UDP turnaround

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[Viewpoint]UDP turnaround

Is the 17th term of the National Assembly really going to draw the curtain down like this? The opposition is making an issue of American beef imports and claiming there will be no ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement if the beef deal is not renegotiated.

The opposition currently has a majority in the National Assembly, and without their cooperation, especially the United Democratic Party, ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA is impossible during this term.

Even if the FTA is not ratified during this term, it can be handled in the next term. The number of votes for ratification works out nicely since the ruling Grand National Party won a majority in the April general elections. However, to delay ratification would end up wasting administrative expenses and watering down the strategic value gained from passing the bill early.

The discussion on ratification starts in the National Assembly’s standing committee, and the ratification bill will then go through a designated process. Once the 18th National Assembly term begins, the standing committees will be reorganized, and political parties are likely to vie for assignments as standing committee heads. The beef deal will surely be a controversial issue in standing committees. The opposition will pull every possible string, from public hearings to a National Assembly inspection, to attacking the administration. Imagine the cost of all this trouble, which would have to be paid with taxpayers’ money.

The 17th National Assembly has already been studying, reviewing and checking the entire process by which the agreement will be ratified. In addition to the Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, which is in charge of FTA issues, a special committee has been organized and has been in operation throughout the negotiation process. Every detail of the negotiation by the Korean government has been released, and all the sensitive documents have been made public. Public hearings have been held on several occasions. There is nothing more to be disclosed, and all the doubts have already been raised. We have had enough discussion on the economic effects and expected shockwaves. We are left at the moment of decision. What would it mean to repeat this process in the 18th National Assembly?

We are certainly displeased with the lukewarm attitude of the U.S. Congress toward the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. The leaders of the Democratic Party, which dominate the U.S. Congress, ruined the mood by issuing a statement opposing the free trade agreement between the two countries right before the signing ceremony in late June of 2007. Their grounds for opposition was that the agreement was unfair to the United States.

Well, the Korean groups opposing the FTA claim the deal was disadvantageous to Korea. They explicitly noted beef and automobiles as top issues. The Bush administration promises to resolve the beef issue with Korea and to persuade and educate the Congress on the automobile issue.

Now that the administration has found a solution to the beef issue, it is still left with the challenge of getting ratification by the U.S. Congress. If the Korean National Assembly approves ratification, there would be no renegotiations on automobiles. If the U.S. Congress demands a renegotiation on automobiles, it would mean giving up the FTA altogether.

Taking the national interest into account, the 17th National Assembly ought to attend to the FTA ratification bill. However, the opposition party might feel that thinking about what is in the national interest is a luxury, as it is biding its time and planning a comeback after having been crushed in the presidential election. It lost its support in the capital region in the general election and has been reduced to a regional party. Nevertheless, if the UDP does not want to settle for a regional structure and hopes to reinvent itself and pursue power, it needs to at least distinguish political offensives from national interests.

The opposition is enjoying the side effects of the presidential administration’s poor management of the negotiation process concerning U.S. beef imports. However, if it continues to ride on that wave, the boomerang might fly back.

The UDP’s position not to ratify the free trade agreement because of beef is not convincing. While they say that the government changed its position on beef imports since the last administration and raised questions on the safety of the meat, the greater frame of the negotiation was defined during the last administration.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun promised in a statement in April 2007 that the beef issue would be addressed based on international standards within a reasonable period of time. It is unworthy of the former ruling party to deny the bigger frame of the negotiation.

The 17th National Assembly will be history by the end of May. We still have enough time to hope that the United Democratic Party comes to its senses.

*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
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