[Outlook]Stick to the deal

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[Outlook]Stick to the deal

Many argue that the only way to resolve the current U.S. beef row is to renegotiate the beef deal. The Korean and United States administrations reached an agreement, but for the agreement to become effective it has to be enacted as a domestic law. But the announcement of the minister for food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries defining import and quarantine regulations on beef imports hasn’t been published yet in the official gazette. As more than 70 percent of the people believe there were problems in negotiations on the beef deal, announcing the content of negotiations would be political suicide. Thus, even inside the ruling party many members assert that we should renegotiate. Is it inevitable then to have negotiations again?

Renegotiation means to annul the earlier agreement entirely and start negotiations anew. The agreement on beef imports from the United States was reached on April 18. The agreement was based on an international standard that U.S. beef is safe to consume regardless of the age of cattle, as long as specified risk materials are removed, since the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, categorized the United States as a riskcontrolled country. Having renegotiations means to reject this basic condition of the agreement and implement new import and hygiene standards. At the negotiation table, no matter how our negotiators may raise their voices, if they don’t present logical evidence, their demands are unlikely to be accepted. This is also the case in negotiations over hygiene and quarantine standards because excessive quarantine measures have been suspected as disguised trade barriers.

As there is insufficient research on mad cow disease here, the OIE hasn’t even categorized Korea in terms of control of mad cow disease risk. It is thus uncertain what basis and standards Korea can use to push through its demands.

Let’s imagine that the safety of Korean vehicles has been verified by an international organization and a foreign government has reached an agreement with Seoul to open its car market fully to Korea. Suppose the public in that country doubts the safety of Korean cars, making their government break the agreement and demand renegotiation with Korea. If we imagine how that would feel, we can appreciate that renegotiating the beef deal with the U.S. is no simple matter.

If the Korean government publicly announces that it would consider renegotiation, it will face several difficulties. First, if we can’t get everything that some Koreans want to get from the renegotiations, the situation might get worse. This might deepen the public distrust toward the Lee Myung-bak administration and spread anti-American sentiment.

Second, renegotiations will shake the structure of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. Since the bilateral trade agreement was reached, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives severely criticized unfavorable conditions for the U.S. car industry and demanded renegotiations over the issue.

Both the U.S. and Korean administrations share the view that the U.S. beef import issue would be resolved with international standards of free trade; the demand for renegotiations over vehicles damages free trade. Thus, despite repeated demands for renegotiation over vehicles, the U.S. administration didn’t take any action. If Korea declares its desire for renegotiations over beef imports, the United States might demand to have new negotiations over vehicles. If this happens, the future of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement would be uncertain.

Third, Korea’s demand for renegotiations could hurt Korea’s credit standing and weaken its negotiating power.

Breaking the earlier agreement and declaring we want to renegotiate, as if waging a war, would be an easy way to maintain self-esteem and overcome the current crisis. However, as chances of successful renegotiations are not very high, such a demand could hurt Korea’s pride even more, worsening its international relations and paralyzing state affairs. Since Korea trades with many countries in the world, it should be more careful when approaching the issue.

Debates over U.S. beef imports have continued for two months, yet the government hasn’t launched an independent committee consisting of experts from the private sector. Such a committee should be guaranteed to work independently and to have a working environment that fosters objective research in order to present evidence regarding the controversy over mad cow disease.

Even though a committee of this kind hasn’t been formed, the opposition party maintains that the import of beef from cattle over 30 months should be banned. But if the order is reversed, the situation is likely to get worse. Candlelight vigils are insufficient. Objective and feasible measures must be sought.

*The writer is dean of the Graduate School of International Studies, Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Byung-il
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