On Friday the 13th the Korean Trade Minister, Kim Jong-Hoon, arrived in Washington for negotiations with Susan Schwab, the US Trade Representative. The initial negotiations took place on Friday and Saturday. Twice Kim threatened to walkout and return to Korea. However, the negotiations stretched out for almost a week, finally ending on the 19th. Here's a combination of a profile of Kim with a discussion of the negotiations: Man of Adroit Brinkmanship (Jane Han, The Korea Times, June 22)
The result, according to the US Trade Representative (USTR Confirms Korea’s Announcement on U.S. Beef, press release, June 21):
The June 13-19 discussions in Washington, led by Ambassador Schwab and Trade Minister Kim, focused on ways to facilitate the commercial, private-sector agreement between Korean importers and U.S. exporters to ship U.S. beef from animals less than 30-months for a transitional period until consumer confidence in South Korea improves. To support these voluntary commitments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will establish, once the import protocol is in force, the “Less than 30 Month Age-Verification Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program for Korea” administered by the U.S. government under the Agricultural Marketing Act. This program will verify that all beef shipped to Korea under the program is from cattle less than 30 months of age.
In addition, both sides have agreed that certain products (brains, skulls, eyes and spinal cords), which are not specified risk materials in cattle less than 30 months of age, have not been traded between the two countries in the past. Once the import protocol is in effect, both sides will confirm their expectation that until there is market demand in Korea for such products, such commercial practice will continue.
The two governments will also clarify, once the import protocol is in effect, that Korea can take certain actions under the protocol if it finds serious non-compliance during its audits of U.S. beef processing plants, as well as actions it could take at the border upon detection of food safety hazards. All of these actions will be limited to the product or plant in question.
Finally, Korea confirmed that it will publish its import health requirements for U.S. beef and beef products, putting the April 18 protocol into effect shortly.
The April 18 protocol defines conditions for importation of U.S. beef to South Korea and provides for a full reopening of the market. It is fully consistent with OIE guidelines and will permit all U.S. beef and beef products from cattle of all ages to be exported to Korea, with appropriate Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), as defined by the OIE, removed, while guaranteeing commercial viability for U.S. industry. Both Korean importers and U.S. exporters reaffirmed the safety of all U.S. beef, regardless of age, in their statement and letter on June 20.
Key U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana, Chairman of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, was unimpressed: U.S. Senators Say Additional Beef Talks Violate April Deal (Chosun Ilbo, June 24).
On Wednesday, the 25th, the government indicated that beef imports could resume on the 26th: S.Korea to allow restart of US beef imports Thursday (The Guardian, June 25).
Demonstrations and Strikes
Demonstrations continued (SKorean clashes despite new deal on US beef, AFP, June 21). The government began to talk about cracking down on violent demonstrations (South Korea: Tougher Line on Protests , Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, June 25).
The trucker strike continued into the new week: S.Korean strike halts trade worth almost $5 billion (AFP, June 17). But by the end of the week the strike was winding down after employer concessions: More truckers are ending strikes in South Korea (AP)
On Monday construction workers went on strike: Construction Workers Strike in South Korea (AP, June 17). On Tuesday, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) said that its members had approved a general strike to oppose Lee Administration policies, including the beef agreement, for July 2: SKorea unions may strike over beef imports, more talks set (AFP, JUne 16). See also South Korea union federation to strike (KWANG-TAE KIM, AP, June 17) Carworkers strike: S Korea Carmakers' Unions Vote To Strike Vs Government Policies (Dow Jones via CNNNews, June 16) The Chosun Ilbo editorial writers argued that the KCTU vote was technically illegal: When No Means Yes (Chosun Ilbo, editorial).
President Lee discussed recent events in a press conference on Thursday. Key points:
- He apologized again for the way the beef decision had been made and implemented in April.
- He said that in a conversation on June 7 he told President Bush that Korea would not allow imports until the U.S. found a way to prevent the export of beef from cows older than 30 months.
- He said, however, that Korea could not renegotiate the deal without hurting its reputation with other trading partners.
- He endorsed the trade agreement with the U.S.
- He noted that he would reorganize his cabinet in line with the reopening of the National Assembly (see the discussion below about "Lee's Reorganization" for the significance of the reference to the reopening of the Assembly).
- He denied rumors about government privatization plans and offered to back off on the cross-Korea canal.
Here's a summary: Pres. Lee Vows to Disallow Imports of Old U.S. Beef (Dong-A Ilbo, June 19). Here's another summary: South Korea's Lee Vows Changes After Flap Over U.S. Beef (Evan Ramstad and Sungha Park, Wall Street Journal, June 20). Donald Kirk dissected the speech: Presidential apology falls short (Asia Times, June 20). Kirk's story is a nice recapitulation of the remarks, but the title is misleading - this isn't a story about the failure of the apology.
Mid-week, Lee accepted the resignations of six of his seven key aides. There was no word on what he would do with the resignations submitted by his cabinet. Columnist Shim Jae Hoon points out that with the opposition boycotting the National Assembly, Lee can't really accept resignations at this time, because the Assembly has to approve his choices: US Compromise on Beef Fails to Dent Korean Protest (Asian Sentinal, June 23):
In truth, however, Lee lacks leverage to reist the opposition campaign, as he stands essentially incapable of firing or hiring his cabinet officials under the current parliamentary boycott. All cabinet appointments require parliamentary approval, so any new cabinet reshuffle that Lee submits must be approved by the new National Assembly, which is in a vegetative state, however. To break out of the parliamentary gridlock, Lee needs as much opposition support as he possibly can muster. Against this backdrop, the question of how long he can keep Han onboard appears largely academic. With public support for Han so negative (the country's biggest civic organization, the Coalition of Participatory Democracy, vows to unseat him at all cost), whatever action taken against the prime minister will in the end determine the future stability of his young administration, analysts say. Lee’s dependence on the UDP for the smooth operation of his government brings more uncertainty to his flagging leadership at this time of global economic downturns.
The government's communications office was reorganized: Presidential Office Overhauled to Improve Communications (Chosun Ilbo, June 25).