Time to strike on U.S. FTA

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Time to strike on U.S. FTA

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned that American companies could pay a big price if the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement continues to be delayed. He also expressed concerns that the European Union could enter the Korean market first by reaching a trade deal with Korea.

In his State of the Union address, Obama also spoke of the need to strengthen U.S. trade relations with Korea, Panama and Colombia. This represents a major shift, since Obama once wondered aloud whether Seoul and Washington had held fair negotiations on the automobile industry during their FTA talks.

Of course, it’s difficult to immediately have trust in the U.S. change in stance. President Obama didn’t offer a specific timetable for the ratification by Congress, and officials in his administration remain cautious at best.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, urged South Korea to “have patience” on the trade deal and, said regarding the timing that “we’ll have to wait and see.”

The United States has shown discontent over the automobile portion of the deal but has yet to come up with a benchmark for reconsideration or any specific demands. If anything, Americans themselves don’t seem to know what they want to do with the automobile market.

Since being signed, the FTA has sat idle for two and a half years.

President Lee Myung-bak already said last year he was prepared to discuss automobiles if there were any problems. Obama has said he would double exports over the next five years and create two million new U.S. jobs.

It’d be difficult to deny that interest in the Korea-U.S. FTA can only rise from here, and the sun seems to be shining down on this deal for a change.

An old American saying goes, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Obama said if the United States sits on the sidelines on trade deals, “We will lose the chance to create jobs on our shore.”

He is right on the money.

There has hardly been a better opportunity to seal the Korea-U.S. FTA. But renegotiations that will shake the deal at its roots are neither possible nor desirable.

The two countries would be wiser to modify parts of supplementary documents, exchange letters or reach an agreement to allow free exchanges between industries. It’s time for Obama to make his call.
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