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Korea and the U.S. must give and take

Posted March. 22, 2007 03:03,   


Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Jong-hoon, answered, “Though it is like climbing one of the highest mountains, we can reach a deal,” when questioned about the progress of negotiations. Chief negotiator Kim earnestly told reporters of the progress and outlook of the negotiations, and his personal opinions on the critics, at a press briefing over dinner at a Chinese restaurant near Renaissance Mayflower Hotel – the negotiation venue in Washington – on March 20.

○ Time to reach a “major deal”

-“How far did the high-level talks go?

Kim Jong-hoon: “We laid almost all of our cards on the table. Now it is time for give and take. So far we have exchanged our views based on assumptions, but it is now time for action.”

For the past ten months, since the first round of Korus FTA negotiations in June, 2006, negotiations have followed the pattern: ‘If Korea gives to the U.S, the U.S. should give back to Korea.’ It is time for the two parties to progress further, minus the ‘ifs’.

-“What do you give and take?”

Kim Jong-hoon: “Korea can take the offensive on the issues of tariff relief on automobiles and textiles and trade remedies, and the U.S. can follow suit on the issues of agriculture, telecommunication, and pharmaceuticals. Together, there are around ten highly contentious issues.

Since time is running out, both sides cannot afford to deal with each item separately. Therefore, they are aiming to reach an agreement that balances the benefits by bundling all issues into one package deal.

-“Do you think you can reach an agreement on all of the contentious issues?”

Kim Jong-hoon: “Differences of opinion on an issue or two may not be ironed out until the very end, and it is highly likely that the wording of the agreement on issues requiring more time will appear to be ‘constructive ambiguity’.” For example, the wording of issues that need political settlement, such as recognizing products from the Gaesong Industrial Complex as South Korean goods, will appear as ‘to be discussed later.’”

○ One or two deal breakers still remain

Kim is optimistic about the overall agreement but remains cautious, saying, “there are still uphill battles lying ahead.” In fact, the two parties are yet to make breakthroughs in their on-going high-level talks on automobiles, agriculture, and textiles, in both Seoul and Washington.

-“Why is the progress so slow?”

Kim Jong-hoon: “We can’t have too many cooks, especially for the agricultural issue. The meddling of ministers is not helping.”

Kim recalled the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Park Hong-soo, recently raising his voice in opposition to the opening of the agricultural sector.

-“Negotiations in the areas of textiles and agriculture seem especially slow.”

Kim Jong-hoon: “Currently, negotiations on the two areas have commenced separately between the Vice Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy and the Vice Minister of Agriculture. When the ministerial-level talks enter into full swing, the two will be discussed together. The process has not been slow. We managed to weed out any unnecessary topics and if the talks proceed as they did in the fourth and fifth rounds, we can strike a deal; even if we have to work overnight.”

○ Fortune cookie says, “Time to implement.”

Kim logically refuted the arguments of FTA critics, saying, “In the political arena, some say, ‘The Korus FTA is a losing strategy’; and some say, ‘Over my dead body’. I think different opinions indicate a healthy democracy.”

-“Some say we give too much.”

Kim Jong-hoon: “My perspective is different. It seems that because the U.S. is already more open than Korea, Korea is like a person wearing too many clothes; whereas the U.S. is more like a person wearing too few clothes. For example, on the Korean side, we have around 90 items on the reservation list in the service sector, but the U.S. only has around 20 on the list.”

His remark indicated that Korea seems to offer more and lose more, but this is because the U.S. is already more open to Korea than Korea is to the U.S.

When the dinner was drawing to a close, fortune cookies were provided. Kim’s fortune cookie advice was “No more new ideas, just implement the existing ones.”

With the scheduled conclusion of the FTA only ten days away, even though Kim is resolved to reaching an agreement, he is still edgy about the final negotiations.