FTA flexibility

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FTA flexibility

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s team seems to be displaying growing signs that the new administration may take a more flexible stance on the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank run by a top Obama transition adviser and former Clinton White House aides, recently said in its policy proposal that the new administration should wrap up the free trade agreements the Bush administration has signed, including those with Korea and Colombia.

The 657-page “Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President,” said the countries in question have enormous expectations for the trade pacts, and a delay in ratifying the deals will send a serious blow to America’s credibility and reliability in Asia and Latin America.

It means even the U.S. Democrats, generally better known for their protectionist sentiment than Republicans, are now stepping up efforts to address the importance of the Korus FTA.

This also indicates Obama’s current negative views on Korus FTA, expressed in his remarks on the campaign trail, still have room for change.

Indeed, Obama’s camp said the president-elect is not rejecting the entire Korus FTA pact and intends to ratify the deal, but only after revising some disputed clauses on the auto sector, leaving more wiggle room for future change. Obama may have made negative remarks on the Korus FTA to woo one of his major backers - the auto labor unions - but he may take a more flexible stance once he takes office.

Then it is certainly unwise for us to delay the National Assembly’s ratification on the deal, assuming the U.S. Congress under the Obama administration will oppose the Korus FTA no matter what.

Rather, it would be wise for us to lead the efforts to win the Korus FTA by ratifying the pact here first. For the disputed clauses of the pact on the auto sector, there is no need to assume that the U.S. will soon demand a renegotiation.

Korea’s chief negotiator for the free trade agreement, Lee Hye-min, said it won’t be that easy for Washington to ask Korea to reopen the deal, since doing so will seriously tarnish the country’s international credibility and violate the international protocols.

All in all, the National Assembly should now make more effort to pass the Korus FTA by the end of this year, which will inevitably cement Seoul’s leverage with the U.S.

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