Korea-US FTA Negotiated; US Congress Up Next

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 12/04/2010 04:41:00 AM
Whoa, the Obama administration has actually negotiated a trade deal. As trade junkies know, one of the leftover bilaterals from the Bush administration was KORUSFTA. One stumbling block was US automakers demanding better access to the Korean car market. (Remember that this had also been a US demand on Japan during the Nineties that was all for nought, so I don't expect anything substantially different here in terms of results.) Another stumbling block was Korean resistance to American exports of beef from older cattle that was supposedly more prone to mad cow disease. I wasn't really expecting both to be resolved soon, so go figure. Perhaps a newly-belligerent North Korea has just reminded South Korea how tenuous its security situation remains so many decades after the Korean conflict, hence the need to cosy up to Washington.

At any rate, the story is not over yet as the focus shifts from international economic diplomacy to domestic politics. The Korean parliament will need to ratify this deal. Remember, this is the same National Assembly where legislators started beating each other up over KORUSFTA a few months back. Meanwhile, the Obamanites will also have to shepherd this FTA through the US Congress since Obama doesn't possess the fast-track authority his predecessor enjoyed for most of his term.

From the Yonhap News Agency:
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for early ratification of the revised free trade agreement (FTA) between Seoul and Washington, expecting it to be beneficial for both countries, according to Cheong Wa Dae Saturday. On Friday (Korean time), the two countries finalized revisions of the FTA in Washington, ending a three-year deadlock over U.S. demands for wider access to South Korea's auto market.

Kim Jong-hoon, the chief negotiator for Seoul, said "a substantial outcome" was made on automobiles and other areas during the talks. The presidential office issued a statement by Lee expressing his hope that the new FTA would be quickly ratified in both countries so that the free trade pact can "finally bear fruits."

Lee also said the FTA should bring huge economic benefits for both countries and will help take the South Korea-U.S. alliance to the next level. "The latest agreement is significant in that it equally reflects interests of both countries and has formed the basis for a 'win-win' situation," Lee was quoted as saying. "Everyone worked together to find alternatives that would be acceptable by both sides in order to ratify and put in effect the KORUS FTA...With the KORUS FTA, our exports will enjoy major growth," Lee said. "And our economy will have an opportunity to improve in its quality."

Lawmakers on Saturday, however, said ratifying the latest agreement will not be easy, recalling violent clashes at the National Assembly over the ratification of the previous deal in December 2008. Rep. Nam Kyung-pil of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), who heads the National Assembly standing committee on foreign affairs and trade, said reaching a new deal was one thing, but putting it through the parliament was another.

"Additional negotiations between governments and ratification at the National Assembly are on different levels," Nam said. "Once the details of the latest talks are available, then our committee will have in-depth discussions. We will also have to take into account opinions of the public and the reaction by the U.S. Congress." Rep. Yoo Ji-jun, also of GNP, said a "stern review" will be necessary to ensure the balance of interests has been maintained after new negotiations.

The ruling party welcomed the revised pact. Its spokeswoman Bae Eun-hee said the FTA gives the export-driven South Korea a chance to beef up its presence in one of the world's largest markets. She also urged political opponents against turning "this matter of our livelihood into a political ideology," and said parties from both spectrums should exercise bipartanships for the sake of national interests.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP), however, argued the latest FTA was a result of "humiliating" negotiations that will block South Korean automobiles from entering the U.S. market. "If we have made unilateral concessions or the balance of interests has been compromised, then we won't accept the new deal, since it will be detrimental to our national interest and also to healthy development of South Korea-U.S. relations," said the DP spokeswoman Cha Young.
UPDATE: Jonathan at Trade Diversion collates news reports that suggest that since KORUSFTA was negotiated while fast-track authority was in effect (under the Bush administration), its stipulations will hold when Obama introduces this FTA to Congress. That is, legislators cannot modify its content but only vote on it on a straight yea/nay basis.