Detroit Tigers vs. Kia Tigers
In October 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives ratified the agreement 278-151. It passed the Senate 83-15. The trade deal received the highest number of votes in the history of trade-related bills in Congress, and even more unusual, the agreement passed both houses on the same day. Then-President Barack Obama said it was proof of the trade pact’s strength, and Korean President Lee Myung-bak emphasized the alliance and partnership, saying, “We go together.”
After Congress ratified the agreement, Lee visited a General Motors factory in Detroit wearing a Tigers baseball cap and said, “We will create more jobs.” It was the moment when the Korea-U.S. FTA had significance beyond the agreement itself.
Six years later, the trade deal is about to be revised. Of course, any agreement can be modified depending on the situation. But Korea is especially concerned about the renegotiation because President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine may shake the foundation of the Korea-U.S. alliance.
At the UN General Assembly in September, Trump declared that he would defend the United States’ interests above all else, and others should also pursue their own. Half a month later, renegotiation was put on the table against Korea’s will, along with the real possibility of discarding the agreement altogether.
Now, the two countries have to renegotiate on tariff items, rates and grace periods amid a security crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
The former American ambassador to Korea, Mark Lippert, never forgot to say, “We go together,” in Korean whenever he gave a speech during his tenure. Even after he was attacked by a knife-wielding man in 2015, he expressed appreciation for the support of the Korean people and tweeted in Korean, “We go together.” Koreans interpreted it as willingness to maintain a strong alliance benefiting both countries in the long run, rather than the pursuit of immediate gains and losses.
But since Lippert left the post in January, the seat has been vacant for nine months.
Trump is making his first visit to Korea since his election in early November. He should contemplate why the Korea-U.S. FTA took four years and five months to ratify, while the Korea-EU FTA and Korea-China FTA took just seven months and six months, respectively.
Unlike Lee, we don’t expect Trump will be wearing the baseball cap of the Kia Tigers, whose sponsoring company is suffering from sluggish domestic sales and exports.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 12, Page 30
*The author is deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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