Renegotiation of the South Korea-United States free trade agreement is rising as a major issue between the two nations.
In connection with U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s raising of the necessity for renegotiation, Cheong Wa Dae and the government emphasized that there is to be “no renegotiation” and indicated that the ratification agreement would be resolved in the National Assembly in February.
In response to Clinton’s statement the previous day, Cheong Wa Dae deputy spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said in a Thursday briefing, “I don’t know that it would be appropriate for us to talk about a statement made before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama takes place in the United States, but the question of whether the U.S. will demand renegotiation or not is something we will have to wait and see on.” Kim added, “Our position is that there are no renegotiations.”
When asked whether the National Assembly ratification would take place in February according to the current plan, Kim confirmed that it would, saying, “Our position on the National Assembly ratification is unchanged.”
Earlier on Thursday, Cheong Wa Dae Senior Secretary for Policy Planning Park Jae-wan appeared on KBS Radio and stated, “With the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, negotiations were agreed upon in a way balanced to the national interests of both countries.” Park added, “Regardless of the position of the United States, we think that there is no need to delay the handling of this.”
A high-ranking official with the trade negotiations section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, “The U.S. Congress’s confirmation hearing is not a place for discussing policy in depth, so we can’t really view this as an official position.” The official added, “There are no changes to our position that there is no renegotiation.”
The reaffirmation of the government and Cheong Wa Dae’s principle of “no renegotiations” is being interpreted as an intention to preemptively block any pressure for renegotiations from the Obama administration. It also appears to have the meaning of a preliminary strategy to limit the range of renegotiations to a minimum in the event that they become inevitable.
But as demands for renegotiation of the FTA spread within the Obama administration team and the leadership of the Democratic Party, the majority party in the U.S. Congress, the effectiveness of the government and Cheong Wa Dae’s repeated declarations of “no renegotiations” is in doubt.
On the heels of Senator Clinton’s expression of her intent to demand renegotiation of the FTA during her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Representative Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, the main permanent committee discussing the South Korea-U.S. FTA, said in a Wednesday discussion of this year’s legislative priorities with other representatives on the committee that “President-elect Obama wants to see the ratification of three free trade agreements that are currently pending, with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, but the two agreements with South Korea and Colombia are in need of additional measures.”
In light of this atmosphere from the U.S. political world, some are concerned about possible friction in trade between South Korea and the United States if the government pushes through ratification of the agreement in February with a “no renegotiations” stance. Indeed, Representative Sander Levin, chairman of the Trade Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means, warned in a press conference Wednesday that the Korean National Assembly’s attempt to push through ratification of the agreement in order to apply pressure to the United States was a “mistake.”
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