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Strong Leadership Needed for FTA Ratification

Posted November. 03, 2010 11:22,   


Efforts to ratify and implement a free trade agreement between Korea and the U.S. signed in April 2007 have apparently entered a new phase. In a phone conversation Tuesday, President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed on joint efforts to ratify the trade pact. Obama expressed his hope for the resolution of remaining issues before the G-20 summit in Seoul, saying the deal is not just an economic alliance but one that makes the bilateral alliance more robust. President Lee said, “Sending an anti-protectionism message will have huge implications,” adding, “We should do our best.”

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk held talks in San Francisco last week on the auto and beef sectors, whose resolution is considered critical by the U.S. in ratifying the agreement. The outcome of the second round of negotiations between the two trade ministers will be held after U.S. midterm elections Tuesday, and determine whether working-level talks can be concluded before the G-20 summit. Mutually acceptable fine-tuning of the agreement within an extremely limited range while respecting agreed principles will be desirable.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are holding full-fledged discussions on the expansion of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership. The multilateral free trade agreement between countries in the region is considered an upgraded version of the free trade deal since it is to completely eliminate tariffs in all areas in principle. Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei are signatories to the agreement and the U.S., Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia are likely to join the partnership by the end of next year. The Japanese government, which feels a sense of crisis after failing to reach a free trade agreement with the European Union before Korea did, is also reviewing joining the group. In this situation, a further delay in ratification of the Korea-U.S. trade agreement will undermine the national interests of both countries.

Despite objections to the agreement in both countries, Presidents Lee and Obama to their credit have strived not to break the broad framework of the accord. Now is high time for the two leaders to exhibit political leadership for the ratification and implementation of the agreement to raise exports, income and jobs in both countries, and further strengthen the bilateral alliance by lowering trade barriers.

It is contradictory for Korea`s main opposition Democratic Party, whose roots are with the former Roh Moo-hyun government that reached the agreement, to urge renegotiations. President Lee needs to show strong leadership in persuading those who oppose the agreement.