Protect national interestsThe economy is an important agenda item when U.S. President Donald Trump makes his first visit to South Korea, a senior White House official said. The two countries will work on creating an equal playing field in bilateral trade and address concerns over the bilateral free trade agreement, he added, suggesting that Washington will not yield in economic issues while keeping policy in tune with Seoul over the North Korean nuclear problem. Trump could bring up the trade imbalances in automobiles and steel and strongly push for amendments in the FTA in upcoming summit talks in Seoul.
The two countries already agreed at the second session of the Korea-U.S. FTA Joint Committee in Washington early last month to initiate negotiations on amendments in the free trade deal. But Washington is bringing up the FTA matter again ahead of the summit meeting for political purposes. Trump’s surprising triumph owed much to the voters in Rust Belt states with his “America First” slogan and job promises. Since voters there are increasingly frustrated by seeing little development in the regional economy and job conditions, the Trump administration is in a hurry to show some kind of results before the midterm elections next year.
The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade agreement has hit a snag due to joint resistance from two other key members: Canada and Mexico. Washington may be turning to the FTA with Korea for an exhibitionist result.
But we have nothing to fear. Most of the trade experts and businesses on both sides of the agreement think that there are more upsides than downsides to the bilateral deal. The White House has long stopped its talk of scrapping the FTA with Korea. If there are areas to fix, the two countries can do so in due course. We need not dither nor hurry.
An alliance with the United States is crucial to address the North Korean issue and strengthen deterrence against escalated threats. But just because the two are allies, South Korea should not give up national interests. Political and economic matters must be separated.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 2, Page 34