Faithful implementation key for future of Korea-US trade deal

By Yoon Sung-won, Jhoo Dong-chan

Faithful implementation of the free trade agreement between Korea and the United States (KORUS-FTA) should come first over its renegotiation, according to trade experts here, Friday.

The experts said the KORUS-FTA can become extra beneficial for both countries through partial improvements within its current framework instead of any attempts to rework it.

“The U.S. may consider renegotiating the KORUS-FTA. But a faithful post FTA implementation is more important,” Korean-American Association (KAA) Chairman Park Jin said during a group discussion hosted by The Korea Times in Seoul, Friday. “We can improve the FTA through talks. We don’t have to call it a renegotiation.”

Park said removing tariff and non-tariff barriers, tightening control on intellectual property rights and improving Korea’s unique rules that are not compatible with global standards can be a part of “faithfully implementing” the FTA. He also said opening up the legal and medical markets can improve implementation.

Woo Tae-hee, vice minister of trade, industry and energy, compared the FTA with a triathlon to stress the importance of implementation.

“Negotiation is like swimming and ratification is cycling,” Woo said. “The more critical part is the marathon, which we can say is like implementing an FTA. It is more important than the negotiation and ratification stages to keep the trade agreement successful.”

The vice minister said even if the government reach an agreement in a renegotiation, it still needs to be ratified at the National Assembly under the law on trade proceedings.

Concerns over a renegotiation of the KORUS-FTA have continued to rise here since the inauguration of the Donald Trump administration. Trade industry sources have said the likelihood of a renegotiation became even higher after the U.S. government made it official that it will renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement and abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Even if renegotiations start, however, trade experts said that it will not inflict a serious shock on the Korean economy.

“Personally, I believe the renegotiation will not be a serious problem,” Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade President Yu Byung-gyu said. “Not only from the trade perspective but also in the investment and employment sectors, the U.S. can be seen as a beneficiary (of the FTA). The renegotiation may rather expand benefits for both Korea and the U.S.”

Shin Seung-kwan, the president of Institute for International Trade at the Korea International Trade Association concurred. “There is nothing to be frightened or feared,” he said. “We don’t have to prejudge about renegotiations as they will not cause any serious problem.”

Yu expected that any renegotiation will be about specific issues, not about a comprehensive reconsideration of the deal.

“(U.S. President Donald Trump) prefers bilateral negotiations on detailed issues to multilateral deals,” he said. “For instance, he has pointed out unfairness in specific issues in industries such as steel and petrochemicals.”

Shin said Korea should be ready to remove the U.S. government’s misunderstandings on transparency and unfair trade issues such as antidumping.

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