Updated November. 09, 2010 10:05
A meeting of trade ministers on contentious issues of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement began at the Korean Foreign Ministry in Seoul Monday.
The talks are slated to end Tuesday but both sides are willing to keep going until Wednesday if necessary. Since both countries are determined to reach an agreement in any form before their bilateral summit and the opening of the G-20 Seoul summit Thursday, the first meeting was tense.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk quickly passed the photo line and moved up to the ninth floor to the meeting room with his 10 delegates, including Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, at 11 a.m. Four Korean representatives including Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and four U.S. counterparts including Kirk and Cutler sat at the table.
The U.S. pressed Korea to remove non-tariff barriers on cars Monday as it did in the assistant secretarial meeting Thursday through Sunday. Seoul claimed that more requests are unacceptable given public opinion in Korea, stressing its concession in fuel regulation.
Washington also asked for the recovery of a tariff on Korean pickup trucks (25 percent) and the limit on tariff refund for parts from a third country that the agreement recognizes.
In response, Korea claimed that any change in the agreement is impossible since the meeting was held at the request of the U.S. after the deal had been agreed upon and amid excessive criticism of the car and beef sectors in Congress, citing public opinions in the U.S.
Criticism that the Korean government is being too defensive has emerged, however. A saying in the diplomatic community goes that no negotiation is as foolish as the one with a deadline.
Risky negotiations began as President Lee Myung-bak said, "I`ll do my best" at the request of U.S. President Barack Obama, who proclaimed the principle on striking the deal before the Seoul summit.
If an agreement is not reached this time, Obama could suffer global disgrace and a political dilemma in the wake of the Democratic Party`s defeat in the mid-term elections. Even if the U.S. compromises with Korea, he will face criticism from the Republican Party for spending so much time for so little.
Though President Lee can minimize coordination of the negotiations by accepting certain U.S. requests, he could face criticism from opposition parties for "disgraceful diplomacy" in the course of ratification. If Korea wants to gain something for making concessions, however, the meeting should become larger to the level of renegotiation despite shortage of time.
For this reason, Korean delegates are saying, If we had more time.
A source from the Korean government said, "From the point when the U.S. stressed striking a deal before the G-20 Seoul summit, we feared we`d be in atmosphere in which we had to offer something, and the negotiations have gone that way to an extent."
This indicates that Seoul decided to strike a deal early while making minimal concessions to Washington because if only economic elements are considered, Korea could give and take with enough time regardless of an early deal.