Gov't Must Not Hide Concessions to U.S. from the Public

  • By Ahn Joon-ho from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    April 04, 2018 12:57

    Ahn Joon-ho

    The government has agreed revised terms of a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S. that went into effect in 2012, but kept quiet about sensitive portions that are only being revealed in an official announcement by the White House and U.S. Trade Representative.

    Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong said on March 25 that Korea and the U.S. "reached an agreement in principle on a revised Korea-U.S. FTA and steel tariffs" and touted Seoul's success in holding its ground and protecting Korea's agricultural sector.

    But he failed to inform the public that the government agreed to cut the amount of steel exports to the U.S. to 70 percent of the average between 2015 to 2017. It was only when U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared on Fox News that there is now a reduced quota that Koreans found out about it.

    The White House also revealed on March 27 that Korea and the U.S. agreed to limit government intervention in their respective currencies. After being accused of signing a behind-the-scenes agreement, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy passed the buck to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which claimed the agreement on currency intervention was separate from the FTA. But the next day, the USTR said the agreement was a "major achievement" of the Korea-U.S. FTA revision.

    The government's claim that it has protected Korean farmers also turned out to be less than frank when White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press briefing on March 28 that it was "a big deal and a major win for American workers and American businesses" not only in the automotive industry but in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.

    The Trade Ministry here swiftly claimed that the agricultural sector was not included in the revisions, but the USTR said on March 30 that Washington asked Seoul to open up its markets to U.S. apples and pears and is continuing to pressure it.

    Some pundits say the latest negotiations are reminiscent of the Kim Dae-jung administration's handling of talks over Chinese garlic imports in 2000. At the time, Seoul agreed with Beijing to stop safeguard measures against Chinese garlic but hid the fact from the public until 2002. Amid public outrage, a couple of senior Cheong Wa Dae officials in charge were sacked.

    The Minjoo Party told lawmakers during a National Assembly hearing in October of last year that Korea's ambassador to the U.K. Hwang Joon-kook intentionally hid from parliament details of a 2014 agreement with Washington over sharing the expenses of maintaining U.S. troops here and accused him of signing a behind-the-scenes agreement.

    It described such practices as part of the "deep-rooted evils" in Korean society. But now the Moon Jae-in administration is suspected of trying the exact same ruse. It must make sure that it does not make the same mistakes of which it has accused previous administrations.

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