Wednesday, 16 November 2011

President Lee's Tricky Offer to the National Assembly

On 16th November, President Lee visited the National Assembly to persuade the lawmakers to pass a bill for the Korea-US FTA. The Democratic Party, the biggest opposition party, has called for the President to re-negotiate with the U.S. counterpart in advance and delete the Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures from the FTA texts. In this unprecedent visit, President Lee offered that he would ask the U.S. government to reopen the negotiation table if the National Assembly approves the bill. But the President's offer is tricky because what he offered is not different from what the trade officials can do after the FTA comes into effect.

An editorial of KHan on the President's offer is here, reproduced below.

Yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak said that if the National Assembly ratifies the KORUS FTA, he would propose to the Americans the renegotiation of the Investor-State Dispute system (ISD) provisions, one of the biggest points of contention in the agreement, within three months of it going into effect. 

President Lee said this during a visit to the National Assembly, prefacing his comments with the words "if the National Assembly advises me to do so."

When pressed by the Democratic Party on how he would guarantee this, he said he would get the US government to agree to talks. We did not expect a new decision or proposal from the president, but we are still very disappointed in his sounding out the National Assembly's position on renegotiating the ISD provisions after the FTA goes into effect. 

President Lee's offer contains nothing new apart from the fact that it came directly from his mouth, and its effectiveness is by no means guaranteed. 

The president's approach of sounding out the National Assembly's position on renegotiating the ISD provisions after the FTA goes into effect is no different from the provisional plan that was recently agreed upon by the Grand National Party and a Democratic Party parliamentary delegation, but ran into trouble due to objections from the Democratic Party. 

The two parties agreed at the time that the Korean and American governments should form a service and investment committee within three months of the FTA going into effect; this committee would negotiate whether the ISD should be maintained, and report the results to the National Assembly within a year. 

What meaning is there in renegotiating whether to keep the ISD provisions, which have been criticized as handing over Korea's legal sovereignty to the United States, when the provisions have already been allowed to go into effect? 

We think Democratic Labor Party chairperson Lee Jung-hee got to the core of the problem when she observed that President Lee seems to want to enjoy the fruits of the FTA going into effect, while allowing the next administration to take responsibility from any problems that occur. 

The effectiveness of this measure is also questionable. The United States has not given any promise to renegotiate, and even if an assurance were given, there is nothing to be done if the American government decides not to accept it. 

Renegotiations are something a government is supposed to accept when a parliament suggests them. Concluding and amending treaties requires approval from the US Congress, not the US government. 

Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can tell that the president's offer is an approach that places getting the FTA into effect ahead of getting rid of or amending the ISD provisions. 

Following discussions, the Democratic Party's supreme council decided to reject the deal, but the Democratic Party should reflect on the fact that its exclusive focus on resolving the ISD matter has provided an excuse to Lee. 

President Lee's visit to the National Assembly has only confirmed once again his illusions regarding the KORUS FTA. 

To try---unlike the United States, which satisfied its interests by going so far as to hold additional negotiations---to get the KORUS FTA into effect by early next year simply because "the Americans have ratified it, so we should ratify it, too," even while the agreement has all sorts of poisonous articles besides the ISD that are ruinous to national sovereignty, is truly irresponsible. 

The self-righteousness and blindness of the president, who holds that the only patriotic position is in favor of the KORUS FTA, are simply staggering. 

Watching the members in the ruling party who wish to use the president's visit as a pretext for railroading the KORUS FTA through furtively nodding their heads, one could certainly guess the purpose of Lee's visit to the National Assembly. (Editorial, The Kyunghyang Daily News. Nov 16, 2011)

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