Posted : 2010-12-06 18:56
Updated : 2010-12-06 18:56

FTA negotiator may regret his words

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon
By Kim Tae-gyu

While reporting on the renegotiations of the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States to politicians, Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon said that he would volunteer for a new term of military service, if he was found not to have headed the FTA talks properly.

``Should I have to quit because I did my job incorrectly, I would apply to become a marine. Given I cannot fight with a rifle and bayonet due to my age, I would cook,’’ Kim told Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the minor opposition Liberty Forward Party, Sunday.

``During the negotiations (with the U.S.), I did not think of Yeonpyeong Island or the USS George Washington. I have just mulled over the benefits and losses in terms of trade.’’

What he meant was that he defended the national interest during the FTA talks, which concluded late last week, thus negating criticism that Seoul conceded too much to Washington.

In the current tense climate on the peninsula, suspicions arose that concessions Kim made could have had something to do with strengthening the alliance between Korea and the U.S. in the wake of the North Korean shelling of the border island of Yeongpyeong last month.

In joint military drills in the West Sea near Yeongpyeong Island just after the unprovoked attacks, the U.S. dispatched large forces including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

I don’t want to believe the allegations on the FTA concessions for military support, and I do respect Minister Kim, the 58-year-old, who has contributed much for the country’s bilateral trade deals.

In my opinion, however, Kim gave up too much for almost nothing. Korea accepted almost every demand of the U.S. Trade Representative as far as the auto segment was concerned ― tariffs, regulations and quotas.

In return for the unprecedented concessions, what did we get? We seemingly gained merely small benefits in the agricultural and medical patent sectors. This cannot be a deal and that’s why there are so many conspiracy theories or allegations springing up.

Minister Kim might pat his own shoulder as he set aside the topics of the unfettered access to the Korean beef market in the negotiations. But he must remember that we partially opened the beef markets in 2008 to gain the U.S. approval of the 2007 FTA contract.

Therefore, the limitations on U.S. beef imports should not be factored in while calculating the benefits and losses in the negotiations.

I am a firm believer in the huge benefits of free trade and the FTA itself is a win-win solution, which will improve the lives of both Koreans and Americans over the long haul.

In order to gain such co-prosperity, the two countries found a happy medium midway through 2007 and the version should have been ratified by the parliaments to go into effect a few years ago.

Yet, the U.S. asked to change the deal already signed, which I regard diplomatically as very inappropriate. We accepted most requests of the U.S. for small benefits. I want to ask Kim whether he genuinely believes that he’s done the right job.

If his answer is negative, the life-time bureaucrat who failed to safeguard the national interests had better cook for the marines, who safeguard the national borders, instead of assuming the use of large amounts of taxpayers’ money.
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