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Korea should keep its cards under sleeves for FTA renegotiation

Korea should keep its cards under sleeves for FTA renegotiation

Posted November. 24, 2017 09:16,   

Updated November. 24, 2017 09:57


The United States’ trade pressure on South Korea has never changed for the past 30 years. The U.S. government, political circles, and the business community may have different tones but have conveyed the clear message that Seoul should buy more U.S. products.

Another thing that has not changed in the Korea-U.S. trade negotiations – the Korean government’s unprincipled responses. To the United States’ consistent demand for correcting trade imbalances, South Korea has responded without clear principles. For example, Seoul sent a trade delegation to the United States to attract U.S. imports on one hand, while conducting tax investigations into those who bought luxurious imports on the other hand. Back in 30 years ago when Korean civic groups waged a public campaign against imports with the government’s backing, the U.S. government expressed concerns over the trade nationalism. Seoul ended up giving the U.S. the upper hand in the trade negotiations and had to accept U.S. demand for opening up the retail, financial and automobile markets.

We should not repeat mistakes in history. In reality, however, we are doing so. To U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand that the two countries revise the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), South Korea responded lukewarmly, offering to conduct a market research first. When Washington threatened to really abolish the FTA, Seoul hurriedly rushed to the negotiating table. Just 10 days after the leaders of the two countries agreed to facilitate bilateral FTA talks to promote a balanced trade, Choo Mi-ae, the head of South Korea’s ruling party, criticized the U.S. president. Seoul’s trade, industry and energy minister publicly said that agriculture is the “red line.” The government and the ruling party are not abiding by negotiation’s first rule that one should not show his cards first.

Now is not the time to talk first. It is time to contemplate on how to get a full grasp of U.S. demands and maximize Korea’s national interest with joint efforts by the government and the local industries. There is no need to make promises they cannot keep or stimulate Washington in an attempt to appease opponents to the FTA revision. Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong always emphasizes the principle that a negotiator must act unpredictably and move beyond the negotiating partner’s imagination. Kim should put the principle into action. Seoul has yet to take its first step in the negotiations for the proposed revision of the free trade deal with the United States.