Treading a delicate line

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Treading a delicate line

The additional negotiation over beef imports from the United States doesn’t seem to be going smoothly. Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon met with Susan Schwab, the U.S. trade representative, in Washington and had talks for two days, but no conclusion has been reached.

It was reported yesterday that Kim would be returning home, but the plan has changed. Kim will stay one or two more days.

The reasons for such a change are not known yet. Clearly, it is difficult to come up with the best possible solution.

The government carelessly agreed to import beef from the United States including beef from cattle over 30 months old. Cornered by the public’s outrage, the government now has to beg for an additional negotiation.

It’s a waste of time mentioning anything more about the government’s incompetence and irresponsibility concerning this issue.

The key is to ban imports of beef from older cattle while keeping the existing deal intact and, at the same time, placating the fears of the general public.

The government’s proposals so far include U.S. government guarantees of U.S. beef exporters’ voluntary decision not to export beef from older cattle or use an export verification program.

But Washington opposes these ideas because they might violate the regulations of the World Trade Organization. Accepting such measures could affect later negotiations.

We understand that it is difficult to change an agreement between countries because of domestic political concerns in one of those countries.

However, a U.S. media report pointed out that Americans should not ignore Koreans’ fears and condemn them as groundless. The current beef crisis was in part due to an unreliable U.S. quarantine system.

Another report says American beef exporters suggested exporting beef from cattle younger than 30 months first one year ago. But the U.S. government took an all-or-nothing approach, causing the current chaos. Washington needs to think seriously about what benefits the country most.

The beef crisis has thrown the Lee Myung-bak administration into turmoil. It’s more than a simple trade dispute. If this crisis is not solved soon, one can’t estimate what negative effects it will bring to the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and Korea-U.S. relations.

We urge Washington to take a more positive and forward-thinking attitude on this matter.

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