Korea Must Be Firm in FTA Renegotiations with the U.S.

      November 18, 2010 13:22

      What was billed as merely "additional talks" to iron out some details of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is turning into full-blown renegotiations of the original deal signed in 2007. The government has promised not to touch a single part of the original agreement, but the situation has deteriorated to the extent that revisions now appear unavoidable, because of the number of demands U.S. trade officials have made.

      The U.S. is saying it needs to delay the lifting of tariffs on imports of Korean-made automobiles. According to the original FTA, the U.S. is to lift tariffs on Korean-made cars of 3,000 cc or bigger three years after the deal goes into effect and 10 years later for pick-up trucks, but now it wants that to be pushed back even further. It is also demanding that separate regulations are set up in case imports of Korean-made automobiles increase rapidly. At the same time, it demands that Korea ease fuel efficiency, emission and safety rules for American cars it imports. In other words, Washington wants to gain more advantages and give Korea fewer.

      In the present automotive market, the changes may not deliver a drastic blow to Korean carmakers, and it is questionable if any more American cars will be sold in Korea since they are the least popular here due to their low quality. And by contrast, Korean-made cars will inevitably enjoy better conditions for sales in the key U.S. market.

      Still, it is unacceptable to revise the FTA, which was signed by the trade ministers of both sides, simply to benefit the U.S. The country should not forget the standoff it went through over the FTA back in 2008. At the time, ruling-party lawmakers, who supported the FTA, blocked a meeting room with chairs and desks, and opposition lawmakers tried to sledgehammer their way in to stop the ruling party from unilaterally passing it. Imagine what would happen if the government asked lawmakers to ratify a revised FTA that seems to tip the scales in favor of the U.S.?

      When they signed the FTA in 2007, Korean and U.S. trade officials said they each made concessions to reach a "balance of interests." Renegotiations must follow that principle. If Korea yields in terms of automobiles, then the U.S. must yield in terms of textile quotas, agricultural tariffs or other areas. Any deal geared to the benefit of one side cannot last long.

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