[Outlook] Don’t delay on the deal

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[Outlook] Don’t delay on the deal

A column that the lawyer Sukhan Kim wrote [“Go slow to secure FTA,” March 25] seemed to deliver only the United States’ arguments. It ignored the basic fact that international negotiations are conducted in connection with a sovereign country’s domestic political and economic situation. In his column, Kim opposed the quick ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, arguing that it would do more damage to our country than good. He also maintained that considering the state of affairs in the United States, the clauses about the auto industry must be revised.

If I may first make one conclusion, if Seoul approves the trade deal before Washington does, it will not be the result of a lack of strategy. This runs counter to a remark by an influential member of the ruling party, who said Korea’s National Assembly does what it has to do regardless of what Washington does. The move is aimed at resolving issues Washington has with the portion of the deal that concerns the car industry through creative negotiation tools, rather than renegotiation. This would also secure ground from which the U.S. administration can manage complaints from its domestic car industry.

Although the United States is expressing discontent about the parts of the free trade deal focused on the auto sector, there is not a single authority who has officially proclaimed to Korea that that particular portion has problems and must be negotiated again. Politicians make populist remarks, as they are concerned about the voters in the car industry. But Washington knows that demanding renegotiation over a free trade agreement that has already been signed is like opening Pandora’s box.

Kim argued that if Korea approves the deal first, it would limit our flexibility. But a wise strategist knows that sometimes he needs to restrict his own flexibility in order to get what he wants.

There are three main benefits that Korea can obtain by ratifying the agreement first.

First, the act will demonstrate the view shared by global leaders - that in order to overcome the first global economic crisis of the 21st century, we must not resort to trade protectionism.

Second, the approval of the Korea-U.S. free trade deal will declare that discussion on it has come to an end to groups who are still trying to damage the agreement for their own ends. As a result, the administration will be able to focus on other important state affairs.

Third, Korea’s approval will make it difficult for the United States to demand a renegotiation over the car industry. That is, Korea will take the upper hand.

Let’s think about what will possibly happen if we postpone approving the trade agreement, as Kim argued we should. If Korea does not approve the pact while the United States expresses complaints about the car industry, the U.S. will judge that Korea also wants to renegotiate. This will invite the United States to seek renegotiation.

Kim must understand why Korea does not want to deal with the car issue again. If Washington asks to reopen that section of the deal, Korea will try to put another issue on the agenda in an attempt to maintain balance.

In the process, discussions over the new item will once again heat up in Korea. The controversy will hinder the workings of the Korean administration, which already has its hands full. It will serve as a tool for more political fights. Anti-American forces are ready to light candles again and take to the streets at any moment.

Postponing the deal’s approval offers no benefits for Korea. The United States must know what possible effects would stem from insisting on renegotiation.

Kim said the United States accepted our request to change the results of negotiations in April last year that ended up fully opening our beef market to the United States. Now it is Korea’s turn to accept changes in the United States’ political reality and revise the section about the auto industry.

But the beef import negotiations had only one item on the agenda. The results of those talks faced massive protests by the people, whether they were based on scientific facts or not. In the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, the car industry was only one of many items on the agenda. Kim seems to have forgotten that in the United States some groups are dissatisfied with the auto portion of the deal, but others support the free trade agreement.

We should remember that if the United States wants to have more talks over the automobile provisions and Korea strongly resists, jeopardizing the whole deal, supporters of the deal in the United States would not just sit back and watch.

As Korea’s strategists have already understood, there is no reason to resolve the United States’ discontent through renegotiation over the car industry. There are other creative compromises to make.

What’s important is that the new American administration and Congress share the same understanding. As such, it won’t be wise for Korea’s National Assembly to delay ratification of the deal.

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

by Choi Byung-il
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