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Slipshod SK-US FTA negotiations must be halted

The Hankyoreh | 30 March 2007

Slipshod S.K.-U.S. FTA negotiations must be halted

Chun Jung-bae, National Assembly lawmaker

Korea has to actively pursue an open market policy in order to elevate itself to an advanced and strong nation in this era of globalization and market openness. However, it has to be a policy that is strategic and selective and takes into account our realities and strategy for development. Any free trade agreement between Korea and the United States needs to be pursued as part of this "strategic market opening policy." The country has to be asked what it thinks as well, since an FTA is a most serious matter, something that would have a serious influence on the national economy and all areas of society. Instead, the government began negotiations without adequately attempting to persuade the people or seek a consensus. It also committed a very serious error when it announced from the start that it would seek a wide-ranging and high-level agreement, and that it would work to meet the Americans’ timetable.

The government’s bigger blunder was lying to the people. It wrote off everyone opposed to "opening" as believers in "closed-door policy," ignoring all popular concerns about "the national interest" and "the popular welfare" without ever engaging in democratic opinion consultation practices, even after it started negotiating. It did so despite the fact opposing a hasty agreement and opposing opening markets are entirely different things. It has no excuse for the way it suppressed the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression by prohibiting public protests and television advertisements opposed to an FTA.

It looks like the government is trying to reach an agreement at the ongoing high-level talks despite the worries and opposition of so many. Why do we have to hurry to negotiate a treaty according to a deadline set by the U.S.? A U.S. Congressional leader has said Congress might be flexible about the negotiation deadline of March 31. Korea began negotiations on an FTA with the U.S. around the same time as Malaysia , but Malaysia worked with the principle that it would open its markets only as needed, and eventually decided to break off negotiations indefinitely. The negotiation situation so far has been painful to watch.

They seem to be almost fully in agreement about investor-state disputes (ISD), something that could hand over national sovereignty in areas stretching from legislation, judicial matters, and government administration over to American investors and even speculators. Our government would have its authority in public policy severely restricted and find itself unable to deal with socioeconomic disparity or pursue the right kind of public welfare policies. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was supposed to report about needed changes to legislation on trade remedies by the end of last year if we were going to be able to get rid of the unfair trade barriers the U.S. has with its anti-dumping law by the negotiation deadline, but it failed to do so.

Our negotiators long ago gave up trying to abrogate the Jones Act — that symbol of American trade dictatorship, under which all cargo and passengers shipped between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-built ships.

When it comes to automobiles, the U.S. does not even want to remove tariffs, all while demanding we change our tax structure for automobiles and everything else in ways that are advantageous to the U.S. It was thought that textiles would be a real strong point, but the deal on textiles is also far from meeting expectations. Put simply, we gain nothing while giving everything, and the concern is that this is going to be "unilaterally forking things over."

The government is trying to create the impression all it has to do is maintain Korean rice, but that, too, is an attempt to fool the people. There is nothing about rice to defend in relations with the Americans, since at the World Trade Organization we are already going to have the rice market meet a gradual opening and set national quotas. Forty times more beef would be imported and if we yield on that we will be exposing our lives and health to risk at a time when Europe prohibits the import of American beef for safety reasons.

Korea’s negotiators presented the U.S. with a draft of an ISD plan before the Americans asked for an ISD program. It was like we were completely exposing ourselves. How could one ever expect such an incompetent negotiation team to make fundamental change in the direction of the process when there’s so little time left?

Looking at what has been negotiated, it is clear the process is going to end in a way where Korea loses if things turn out well and loses even more if things don’t turn out well. If an FTA is signed like this the country is not going to gain anything, the common people and middle class are going to suffer even more than they are currently, and that will ultimately lead to national discord.

The negotiations must stop immediately. The best way to defend the national interest and the welfare of the people would be to stop and look at what has been accomplished so far, then have the next government pursue an FTA with the U.S. after more thorough preparation and with a national consensus.

 source: Hankyoreh