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Korean FTA Negotiator Under Pressure

Posted September. 09, 2006 06:14,   


It was 9:00 p.m. local time on the second day of the third round of Korea-U.S. FTA talks.

South Korean Chief Negotiator Kim Jong-hoon seemed nervous as he entered the press room on the fourth floor of the Westin Hotel in Seattle, Washington. Upon stepping onto the podium, he sipped water as if he were thirsty. Kim had a tough time yesterday. He might not have been able to make it to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, formerly the Museum of History and Industry, where talks were to be held because protesters opposing a trade agreement with the U.S. blocked his way.

They staged a surprise rally at 8:00 a.m. yesterday in front of the hotel where the Korean delegation were staying. They lodged a protest against the fact that a delegate turned off the microphone which Labor Democratic Party lawmaker Kang Gi-gab was speaking into the day before yesterday.

The protesters, in groups of three to four, waited for Kim to appear at the hotel’s main entrances. They demanded Kim’s apology holding signs that said, “Down with Kim Jong-hoon, who ignores people’s representative.”

Kim had no choice but to wait until they disappeared and headed for the venue. Luckily, no misfortunate incident took place.

The two negotiating parties saw some progress on the day.

According to the top Korean negotiator, Washington said that it might open up its vulnerable textile market earlier than previously planned.

The U.S. wanted to take five steps in opening the market, which meant it would do so immediately, within three years, five years and then 10 years, or act on other viable options. This indicates that Washington made some concessions at Seoul’s request that it should totally liberalize the textile market within five years.

On a revision of its anti-dumping measures, the U.S. seems to have budged slightly from its original stance that there is little room for negotiation regarding its trade support system.

The Korean delegation has shown positive results in the negotiation process with the U.S., probably the best bargainers in the world.

The Korea-U.S. FTA talks are under way in 19 subdivisions. If the head of each subdivision is a general, the top delegate is the chief commander of the generals.

Kim is debriefed by those in charge of the subdivisions every night and discusses strategies for the next day’s dialogue. Every day he fights an uphill battle.

However, what is really difficult is to build consensus in Korea.

On September 5, even before the negotiations, some lawmakers were reportedly to file a lawsuit against the FTA, saying that it did not receive approval from the National Assembly, thus deeming it unconstitutional. The news was a huge disappointment to Kim. He, who often goes hang-gliding, said that he felt like he was trapped in clouds.