U.S. approval of Korea FTA closer

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U.S. approval of Korea FTA closer

The United States has gotten closer to ratifying a free trade agreement with Korea after the Barack Obama administration persuaded a key holdout in the Senate by pledging stronger efforts to promote American beef in Korea.

The White House said Wednesday that it was ready to send the long delayed trade deal to Congress for approval. Trade pacts with Colombia and Panama were also to be sent. The first step in the process is technical discussions between the government and congressional committees.

Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from the ranching state of Montana and head of the Senate Finance Committee, has resisted the FTA with Korea, complaining about dissatisfactory access to the Korean beef market. After Washington promised to consult with Seoul to gain wider access, Baucus offered his backing for the deal.

In his letter to the senator, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk made the pledge that the U.S. government will ask for consultations with the Korean government on the beef issue after the FTA goes into effect.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also said it would commit $1 million to the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s campaign to promote U.S. beef in Korea.

Baucus has demanded that Korea lift age restrictions on U.S. beef imports. As of now, only American beef from cattle younger than 30 months are allowed in Korea. The issue is a highly charged one in Korea, where fears of mad cow disease from U.S. beef sparked major antigovernment demonstrations in 2008.

Seoul and Washington initially concluded the FTA in 2007 to eliminate most tariffs and trade barriers between the two countries within five years.

Additional negotiations took place last autumn to sweeten provisions for U.S. automakers in order to garner easier congressional support. At the time, the beef issue was not renegotiated.

The Korean government has said its restrictions on U.S. beef imports will not be eased, even though it is open to a discussion with the United States on the matter.

Prospects for the FTA’s ratification in Korea remain unclear. While the ruling Grand National Party, which has 172 members in the 299-seat National Assembly, backs the deal, the liberal opposition has fiercely protested the FTA, citing lack of protective measures for domestic industries.

In 2008, the ruling GNP pushed the deal forward in the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, and a violent melee erupted during the process.

Korea’s free trade agreement with the European Union, which was less controversial, won National Assembly ratification Wednesday night, but only after opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote in protest.

Washington’s notion of negotiating wider access to the Korean beef market after the FTA takes effect could create problems for the ruling GNP in attempting to ratify the agreement. Although it has a majority in the National Assembly, using it over objections by the opposition has become highly unpopular with the Korean public. And the ruling party has become more sensitive to public opinion after recent by-election defeats and ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [머니투데이]

한·미 FTA 비준절차 美 의회서 재개 전망

강경파 보커스 의원 ‘찬성’으로 입장 변화

한국 쇠고기 시장의 전면 개방을 선결 조건으로 내세워 한·미 자유무역협정(FTA) 비준 동의에 반대해온 맥스 보커스(민주.몬태나) 상원의원이 쇠고기시장 추가 개방 문제는 한미FTA 비준 이후로 미뤄도 좋다는 입장으로 돌아섰다.

한·미 FTA 비준안 상정을 소관하는 상원 재무위원회 위원장인 보커스 의원이 미 행정부와의 협의 끝에 `선 한미FTA 비준-후 한국 쇠고기 추가 개방`으로 입장을 바꿈에 따라 한·미FTA 비준 작업이 재개될 전망이다.

한국 쇠고기 시장의 개방 문제를 한·미 FTA 비준동의와 연계해야 한다고 주장해온 보커스 의원은 4일(현지시간) 성명을 내고 한·미 FTA 비준안에 찬성하겠다는 입장을 표명했다.

정치권에서는 보커스가 입장을 바꾼 것을 두고 오바마 행정부와 물밑에서 정치적 타협을 이룬 것으로 보고 있다. 보커스 의원은 한국 시장에서 미국산 쇠고기 판매 확대를 위한 홍보 판촉 예산을 확보한 것으로 알려졌다.

앞서 이날 론 커크 미 무역대표부(USTR) 대표는 맥스 보커스 위원장에게 보낸 서한에서 "한·미 FTA가 발효된 이후 한국 쇠고기 시장의 수입위생 조건에 관한 협의를 요청하겠다"고 밝혔다.

한·미 양국은 앞서 2008년 쇠고기 수입위생조건에 합의하고 30개월 미만 미국산 쇠고기 수입을 우선 허용한 뒤 전면 수입개방 문제는 추후 논의하기로 했었다.

USTR은 또 한·미 FTA와 미·콜롬비아 FTA, 미·파나마 FTA 등 3개 FTA의 비준을 위해 5일부터 미 의회와 기술적인 내용에 관한 실무협의에 착수하기로 했다고 밝혔다. 다만, 추후 이행법안 표결은 별도로 진행한다고 덧붙였다.

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