Wednesday, March 14, 2007

US-ROK Free Trade Agreement?

Despite my continuing skepticism, reports keep popping up that real progress is being made in terms of the FTA negotiations currently underway between the US and South Korea.

Not sure if this link will work (it might be dynamic), but a quick search of news reports on Google News, such as this one, shows all kinds of optimism. According to this IHT report, during a news conference, the lead US negotiator, Assistant Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, noted that "significant headway" was made "across the board." She also said a pact was "within our grasp." Either she knows something I don't (OK, that's not an 'either'...she definitely knows many things I don't), or she's the most violent optimist I ever encountered. Of course, since her Korean counterpart was similarly optimistic, there might just be something here.

Talks are ongoing (this is the 8th round), but long-standing issues like agriculture, beef, rice, and automobiles remain. Nevertheless, I'm going to concede a ray of sunshine here...not because of some newfound hope, but because of the political imperatives that the article lists as potentially driving the completion of a deal.

In short:
  • President Roh's desire to add to his legacy
  • A chance for the US to balance the growing influence China wields
  • An economic slowdown in South Korea and an attendant desire to increase access to the US markes
  • A March expiration date on the US President's authority to ask the Congress to pass the deal in a simple up or down vote (without amendments)
I think we could add the benefit of a lame duck President...who can presumably withstand whatever domestic political opposition might pop up in terms of compromises on the more difficult issues. Hmmm...could we also call Roh a lame duck in this respect?

So I guess I'm slightly less pessimistic (I won't use the 'O' word). Slightly. I'm also a supporter. I hear free trade is good and I think it could do nothing but help the bilateral relationship (in the long term).

But lost in the debate is the most important issue: will this impact the price of big, nasty flat screen TVs for Jap Chae?! If so, when I finish grad school (in a million years), I'm 'onna git me one. I guess I should change the title of this "Go FTA!!"

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