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Down the rabbit hole

Mar 31,2018
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One of the terms that is always included when discussing a free trade agreement is “balance of interests.” In sensitive negotiations like the Korea-U.S. FTA, the balance of interests is more important, as interested parties need to be persuaded and National Assembly ratification is needed. The Korea-U.S. trade deal was struck in 2007 after 14 years of negotiation, but it didn’t end there. The additional negotiation on U.S. beef imports in 2008 and the renegotiation in 2010 were not easy, and it had to go through a tough ratification process in the legislature in late-2011.

Bilateral negotiations with a powerful partner are a challenge. As negotiations progressed, the balance of interests in the original agreement crumbled. When the renegotiation was concluded in 2010, the JoongAng Ilbo headline was “Gave more and got less … for the alliance.” The leaders of the then-opposition Democratic Party advocated scrapping the FTA and used the front page article of the JoongAng Ilbo in a press conference.

The atmosphere couldn’t be favorable as even the government analyzed that the economic effect of the revised agreement was 40 billion won ($37.6 million) less than the original one. Most experts said that it was still better to have a free trade pact than not having one at all, but opposition parties protested. Then head negotiator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Jong-hoon said he had to convince people with different opinions for a long time, putting up with the insult that he was a traitor and a governor of the United States.

In fact, it was former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun who set the foundation for the Korea-U.S. FTA. As an opposition politician, he opposed joining the WTO and OECD. But as president, he was a greater statesman. It was the Roh administration that made the FTA happen. To the progressives who opposed the trade deal, Roh said that historic facts need to be respected, arguing that the progressive camp’s claims were not proven.

The Korea-U.S. FTA was called a “bad deal” in Korea, but lately, the United States has become discontent with it. To promote the virtue of the trade deal, the Roh administration said that a rabbit may be content with a plot of grass, but a lion needs a grassy plain. We may have thought that Korea is a lion, but now it seems that U.S. President Donald Trump is the real lion. As the revised FTA was announced, no one in the government dared to mention the “balance of interests.”


JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 31

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SUH KYOUNG-HO