It’s the Democrats’ turn

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It’s the Democrats’ turn

With the U.S. Congress’ ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the ball is now in our court. Precisely speaking, it is the main opposition Democratic Party’s turn to approve it. The party has no justification for delaying the ratification process further, especially given the ruling Grand National Party’s persistent efforts to finalize the trade pact since the government’s renegotiation of the deal last year.

Ironically, it was the DP that had pursued the FTA in the beginning. After studying the potential merits of the trade deal during the Kim Dae-jung administration, the party launched a full-fledged negotiation with the United States in 2006, when President Roh Moo-hyun urged the nation “to join the ranks of the G-10 through the FTA.” Despite strong opposition from his supporters, Roh pushed ahead with the pact.

It is also ironic that DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, now an avid opponent of the trade pact, was a strong supporter of it when he was a presidential hopeful with the GNP. Sohn even backed the FTA after switching to the DP. But now, swayed by the hardcore opponents of the pact in his party, he has flip-flopped once again. These hardliners, eyeing a potential political alliance with other progressive forces, are making more noise about the issue. We wonder if Sohn also changed his position with such political advantages in mind. The DP’s opposition to the pact - as exemplified by Chung Dong-young’s comparing it to the disgraceful annexation treaty enforced by imperial Japan in 1905 - is not only misleading but also demagogic.

The FTA with Chile in 2004 shows why. Many Koreans now enjoy Chilean wine at much cheaper prices without any damage to our grape growers; instead, they have notched up the quality of local grapes and wineries to the point where the government does not have to subsidize grape growers at all. Meanwhile, our auto exports to Chile have increased by two times at a time when Japan’s exports have shrunk.

The United States is a much bigger market than Chile, not to mention the strategic alliance between our two countries. In the U.S., many Democrats were opposed to the FTA in the beginning. But they eventually followed a normal procedure for ratification and voted for the trade pact to promote their national interests. Now, it is time for our lawmakers to conclude the process. The DP should also make more realistic demands of the government rather than demanding another renegotiation with the United States. They must vote on the issue, just as their counterparts in the U.S. did.
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