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What will rumor spreaders say?

Posted March. 14, 2017 07:15,   

Updated March. 14, 2017 07:19


1Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the effectuation of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement(FTA). Over the past five years, global trade has declined by 2 percent on average per year due to the global economic recession, but bilateral trade rather increased by 1.7 percent, the Korea International Trade Association announced recently. The two countries would not have enjoyed such economic benefit were it not for the free trade agreement. Korea performed better in goods trade, while the U.S. outperformed in service trade, as the two countries’ market shares in each other’s market gained in tandem to create a win-win situation. U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that the KORUS FTA is an agreement that robs (the U.S.) of jobs has effectively proven to be groundless.

Five years ago, opposition politicians and liberal groups of South Korea made a flurry of accusations against the free trade pact, which were no better than "ghostly rumors." When the rumor that “If you consume U.S. beef, you will develop mad cow disease” no longer drew attention, the claims “The cost for appendectomy will increase to 9 million won (8,000 U.S. dollars) due to privatization of healthcare service,” and “Tap water price will skyrocket and people will have to collect and use precipitation” spread widely on social media. However, the tap water cost and the appendectomy expense only increased by about 10 percent each. “I can never allow Korea’s national interests to be compromised by those taking advantage of a national security crisis,” said then main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, while “The Eulsa Neukyak (Protectorate Treaty between Korea and Japan of 1905) and the KORUS FTA are the same in essence,” said Chung Dong-young, a member of the party’s supreme council. We wonder what they will have to say now. Kim Seon-dong, then lawmaker with the Democratic Labor Party who fired tear gas within the National Assembly hall to block the parliamentary ratification of the accord in 2011, even declared that he will run in the upcoming presidential election.

Even if the Trump administration, which calls for America First and protectionist trade policy, seeks renegotiations of the KORUS FTA, it is unlikely to seek complete renegotiation or termination of the agreement. As Tami Overby, vice chairperson for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Korea, said “The KORUS FTA is the gold standard,” the free trade agreement provides "opportunities" to American companies as well. The U.S. International Trade Commission published a report suggesting that without the KORUS FTA, the U.S. trade deficit would have escalated by over 15 billion U.S. dollars than it is now.

Former main opposition Minjoo Party Chairman Moon Jae-in, who served as the presidential chief of staff in the Roh Moo-hyun administration when the KORUS FTA was first signed in April 2007, had stated that South Korea kept its national interest through the negotiations. However, right before the presidential election in 2012, he expressed opposition to the accord by saying, “How on earth such a treaty can exist,” before reversing his stance again recently by suggesting that there is no reason for Seoul to stubbornly reject Washington’s demand for renegotiation. With South Korean government officials emphasizing the importance of bilateral cooperation at meetings with their U.S. counterparts, political statements by leading presidential hopefuls can have negative effect on negotiations. The Trump team that Seoul has to deal with is "grandmasters of negotiation."