Monday, July 24, 2006

US ROK FTA- Dead as a Doornail

Over the weekend I surveyed the various news coming out of the US ROK Free Trade Talks. I must say that I am far from encouraged, and quite frankly I think the US side has pretty much given up in frustration. Here are the tea leaves I am reading:

1. The second round talks ended abruptly when the US side pulled out, mainly it seems over Korea's stance to keep its plans to change drug policy in place. I do not want to get debate right or wrong here, but clearly leaving scheduled talks is pretty much a bold statement. As an aside, it seems both the US and ROK have learned much from talking with the North Koreans these many years.

2. While this is something I cannot prove easily, or link to, I feel the message traffic from the US side has fallen off. At the beginning and at the end of the first round, there was a deluge of US activity in the US and Korea in support of an FTA. Articles and op-eds appeared frequently based on what the US said, or even written by US officials. Now however, things have ground to a halt, except for a few half-hearted comments it seems.

3. The US has started FTA negotiations with Malaysia. This will defiantly distract US attention and resources, which means any moves now will happen more slowly on the US side, and as you recall time is a critical factor to these talks.

4. The Korean side wants to treat Singapore as a baseline for the talks. This is rather unfortunate since the Singapore agreement includes many things the US side would likely never except, including things like the screen quota and sever agricultural restrictions. See my comments here. Calling that ROK-Singapore agreement an FTA is like calling a ground hamburger patty a "chopped steak" IMHO.

5. You can forget the pharmaceutical side show. The more disturbing news is Korea's reluctance on things like automobilesagriculture, and Gaesong. If the final agreement includes Korea's status quo on these issues, hell even I will join the protesters in Korea. For the US side you can do some easy vote counts on these issues. The autos, you can take the rust-belt states (WI-IL-IN-OH-MI-PA) to get 16 nay votes. The major farming states (CA-TX-FL-ND-SD-NE-KS-MN-MO) for 34 votes total. You add to that the possible opposition to Gaesong from the right and the left, and you easily tip over the 50 needed. Then as the safety measure you can throw in the pharma's and other services excluded. Also remember the president nor even the US Trade Representative will likely never agree to an FTA document that would not have a fighting chance in the Senate (the political stakes are too high).

6. Given the recent protests and timbre of the debate in Korea, the US side should begin to wonder if an FTA is a good strategic move anyway. One should consider if an FTA will simply be used in Korea as a bloody shirt to be waved anytime somebody want to show how evil the US is (Similar to the way the USFK is used and the IMF). Why willing give your enemies that much more ammo. 

There you go, my six reasons you can stick a fork in this baby. Oh sure, things are to be packaged in to neat little diplomatic words about planning and pending talks, but most can read through that. 


At July 25, 2006 4:15 AM, Anonymous Brett said...

Do you suppose that if the FTA agreement with the US dies ... that maybe the US should impose duties on Korean goods? Right now, it seems to me, that things are very one-sided (guess whose). I realize that Korea seems to never want to play fair. It seems to be all about buy my stuff, but ... I'm not buying yours.

At July 25, 2006 2:59 PM, Blogger Dram Man said...


Thanks for your comments. I hope you do not mind, but I awnsered your comment in a post. It is a two way street in some ways:


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