Ratify the Korea-U.S. FTA

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Ratify the Korea-U.S. FTA

The newly-sealed free trade pact between South Korea and the United States can hardly be called satisfactory. We have made considerable concessions to the U.S. demand on easing tariffs on automobiles in return for small concessions in defending our beef and pharmaceutical markets. It is hard to exactly estimate the pros and cons of the revised deal, but at a glance, it cannot be dubbed “completely balanced” as declared by Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon.

We could not have expected an outcome in our favor, considering that negotiations were launched against the backdrop of heavy pressure on Washington because of fresh concerns over unemployment and the need to strengthen ties following North Korea’s surprise attack on Yeonpyeong Island. Still, it is disappointing to see that the revision was a retreat from the original 2007 agreement.

The two countries set a poor and perilous precedent by reopening a completed trade deal and revising it to benefit one side because of its local economic and political conditions. We already warned of the dangers and repercussions of renegotiations. However, we cannot neglect the broader benefits of a free trade pact with the world’s largest economy. We may have our complaints, but we nevertheless would like to see the landmark deal ratified as soon as possible.

We finally gained a breakthrough after a three-year impasse. The trade agreement requires signing and ratification by the legislatures of both countries. U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement welcoming the new agreement and will likely be aggressive in pushing to have the deal enacted.

The real hurdle lies with our parliament. The opposition is already gearing up to resist the new pact, saying it is “humiliating” and “one-sided.” But a Korea-U.S. free trade accord cannot be evaluated based on the new terms alone. We must assess whether this new agreement, while not the best, will benefit the country in the broader context. Instead of knee-jerk opposition, legislators should examine what is the best for the country.

The deal has a meaning beyond trade. A deal with the U.S. would make us the only country in the world with free access to the world’s two largest economies - the U.S. and Europe. As an economy that relies on exports as its key economic driver, we would be gaining guarantees in trade and security from two major global economies. Our trade pact with U.S. and Europe will also give us important leverage against China’s power in the region as well.
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