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June 30, 2008 Source:  www.AsiaEcon.org Ever since the discovery of mad cow disease in one American animal in 2003, US beef has been banned in South Korea. Howver, the April 18th introduction of a protocol to resume the importation of US beef has changed this.  


June 30, 2008

Source:  www.AsiaEcon.org

Ever since the discovery of mad cow disease in one American animal in 2003, US beef has been banned by South Korea. However, the April 18th introduction of a protocol to resume the importation of US beef has changed this. The relieving of this ban did not come easy, though.

Weeks of intense protests forced president Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February, to first postpone imports and then make strict alterations to the protocol. With the goal of finally coming to an agreement over beef more than two months later, a cabinet meeting in South Korea convened, discussing new guidelines for US beef imports, which will apply extra safety terms mentioned in recent talks between both countries. Prime Minister Han Seung-soo requested measures to enhance quarantine inspection of US beef, and the government plans to employ administrative steps this week for resuming imports. Procedures to put the new agreement into effect were to start Monday, says the Trade Minister, but when American beef will reach South Korean markets is still uncertain.

Though both country’s governments have come to an understanding, South Korea must now focus on convincing citizens and addressing their concerns and distrust over the beef imports. The Grand National Party, led by Hong Joon-pyo, aims to explain the effects of the new sanitary terms instead of rushing to relay the news, which the party fears would result in backfire. To achieve a smooth transition to the lifted ban, the party plans to distribute millions of copies of publication across the nation to publicize negotiation results, as well as launch public relations efforts on the Internet and media.

South Korea has successfully taken many measures since April 18th to achieve smooth implementation of the protocol, despite the fact that the anti-beef protest that rose in intensity over the past month came as a shock to both South Korean and American officials. Both were surprised as they considered US-Korean relations were improving, especially after the introduction of the Korean-US free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) roughly a year ago. The KORUS FTA is the second largest trade agreement ever for the US after NAFTA. The FTA was completed on April 2, 2007 and signed on June 30, 2007. However, the ratification of the treaty has dragged on for over a year and has yet to take place, and some have doubts it will ever take place. Though some officials were under the impression that agreeing over the beef issue would greatly increase the likelihood of ratifying the FTA, others believe adherence definitely does not translate into a guarantee.

 Now, nearly a year since the signing, ratification of the FTA is more uncertain than ever as numerous doubts have been expressed by officials. Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) “doubts if he’ll have to decide whether or not to vote on it,” and he is just one of many who reflect the increasingly dim prospects for the deal to result and cause a vast rise in two-way trade. The outlook for the FTA endured a severe jab last month when Barack Obama, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, wrote to President Bush advising him not to bring the vote to Congress as Obama believes the FTA is “badly flawed.” Relaying concerns from the US motor vehicle industry, Obama said the deal “would give Korean exports essentially unfettered access to the US market and would eliminate our best opportunity for obtaining genuinely reciprocal market access in one of the world’s largest economies.” Larry Niksch, an Asia Specialist at the Congressional Research Service, claims that Obama, if elected president, will likely keep an agreement possible but probably in a modified way. John McCain, the leading Republican candidate, has endorsed the FTA in its current form. However, if elected, he will have to deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress that is likely going to insist on substantial modifications.  

Of course, the new presidential candidate might not even have the chance to input his own ideas on the situation if President Bush sends the agreement to Congress while still in office. However, if not sent in the next few days, some believe the treaty will not have enough time to be thoroughly considered, as it may already be too late for Congress to have time to debate and vote on the FTA. Victor Cha, who served close to three years as director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, believes the only way for the FTA to make it through Congress is for Bush to go “on the offensive” if and when the agreement is approved by South Korea’s National Assembly. He also believes that Bush needs to convince Congress of the importance of the FTA beyond a mere trade relationship, as Cha says, “If we don’t do this, China and the European Union will begin to make FTAs that exclude us.” Considering this claim by Cha, advocates of the FTA find the agreement too significant to jeopardize by a hastened congressional debate that may “kill it off.” In the case that the FTA endured a “flaming defeat” in Congress, the relationship between both countries would be undoubtedly pained.

 If the FTA does fail, it will not be for lack of effort on the part of U.S. trade officials, who have shown willingness to cooperate during the beef negotiations. As an amendment to the recent protocol, US beef exporters are required to undergo a Quality System Assessment (QSA) verification led by the US Department of Agriculture. The QSA program will ensure that beef from cattle over 30 months old, which are more susceptible to mad cow disease, will not be exported to South Korea. To further enhance beef quarantine, Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon is considering blacklisting US beef exporters that often violate the age-verification system (QSA). If this measure is taken and a list is released to the public, this should further solidify the effects of the deal, claims Kim. South Korea also has the right to inspect US slaughterhouses.

 Evaluating the current situation and the agreement’s progress to this day, US and South Korean negotiators may be in for yet another year of discussion and dealing as the next US administration takes office this upcoming January. However, the agreement over US beef might just be the first big step towards a tighter, friendlier relationship, but no one can say for sure if that will be enough for the successful ratification of the free trade agreement between South Korea and the US.

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Source: www.AsianEcon.org


Source: www.asiaecon.org |

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