DP selling itself short

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DP selling itself short

The main opposition party has decided to continue protesting the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. As deliberations over President Lee Myung-bak’s offer to seek renegotiation of the contentious investor-state dispute settlement (ISD) clause continued this week, the Democratic Party agreed to accept the deal if it sees a signed agreement from senior officials of the two countries that they will start talks to nullify the ISD clause.

But the DP’s demand is unrealistic and preposterous, as dropping the ISD clause would entail a rewrite of the FTA, which has already been passed by the U.S. Congress.

And this is not something that can be decided by ministers alone. What the DP is demanding is not a renegotiation, but an overthrow of the entire deal.

At the recent party congress, Chung Dong-young, an executive member of the DP, expressed his contempt for Lee’s offer by comparing it to going to a hospital to have one’s stomach pumped three months after eating a poisonous dumpling.

If the ISD clause were considered dangerous enough to jeopardize the whole trade deal, the calls for its removal would be easy to understand. But the clause allowing investors to seek international arbitration over disputes with the state are common in international trade agreements. An ISD clause serves as a form of protection for international investors in foreign markets.

Also, it not only applies to U.S. investors, but also Korean companies making inroads in the U.S. Describing the clause as “poisonous” merely suggests a lack of trust in, or complete ignorance of, the way world trade works.

There is only one reason why the DP is making such an unreasonable demand: It needs to form a coalition with the splinter opposition camp to win next year’s legislative and presidential elections. As such, it makes sense for the party to support the radical views espoused by radical opposition groups like the Democratic Labor Party. In essence, the DP is relinquishing its rights as a public party by shunning national interests for self-serving political purposes.

The government and ruling Grand National Party have so far acted wisely, with Lee even visiting the National Assembly in an attempt to persuade the opposition in person. The GNP has refrained from railroading the bill so far, although polls show that most of the public support the FTA with the U.S. Meanwhile, Japan is seeking a similar deal with the U.S. The DP is putting Korea’s credibility on the line by opposing the deal in such an undemocratic way. It is time to stop such time-wasting antics.
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