Resigned to renegotiations

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Resigned to renegotiations

What we’ve been worried about for so long has become a reality. It now appears that the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is entering a new phase of renegotiation. Asked why the FTA has to be changed after having been signed, Korea’s Trade Minister, Kim Jong-hoon, said it’s because the U.S. made demands requiring modifications to the agreement.

The major problem comes from a sharp discrepancy on the issues of automobiles and beef. For automobiles, the U.S. reportedly wants to amend clauses on tariff removals and refunds, fuel efficiency, environmental standards and car safety. The United States also wants further consultation on U.S. beef imports in Korea.

However, if the U.S. demands too much, the discord cannot be fixed by merely inserting additional articles into the appendix. In that case, it will require changing words in the main agreement. Such a request by the U.S. amounts to a demand for a de facto renegotiation of the FTA.

We have repeatedly pointed out that renegotiation is not the right way to go, as the earlier agreement was reached after long and arduous bargaining in order to strike a balance of interests between the two sides. The U.S. has agreed to the balance that now exists in the FTA.

All negotiations are basically a game of “give and take,” so there has to be balance in an agreement’s entirety, and the Korea-U.S. FTA is no exception. Even if Korea gained some advantages on the issue of cars, as the U.S. argues, we suffer an equivalent loss in the areas of agricultural produce, textiles and investor-state dispute settlements.

With this in mind, a revision would basically amount to a loss on our part. We must accept that this is the state of the FTA. But if renegotiations fail, the U.S. will shoulder all the responsibility.

Of course, we understand the U.S. position. Its economy still isn’t showing signs of a strong recovery, not to mention the dire situation facing the auto industry. The U.S. government is also under heavy pressure from politicians from farming regions. Yet, if the U.S. wants to break away from an agreement that was already made, it is not acting as a superpower should.

A partial renegotiation perhaps would be acceptable. As it is almost impossible for us to budge an inch on the beef issue, we may make concessions on automobiles, while looking for some advantages on textiles and agricultural products. We hope the government will be able to iron out this wrinkle.

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