The United States and South Korea reached an agreement today to reopen the Korean market to U.S. beef, paving the way for President Bush to submit the Korean free trade agreement to Congress. “With this full resumption of U.S. beef exports to South Korea, the major obstacle to congressional consideration of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement … is removed,” Trade Representative Schwab said in a statement. “The administration will now work in earnest with Congress and the U.S. agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors” to win passage of the trade deal. Administration officials viewed the beef imbroglio as the only major obstacle to Bush submitting the trade agreement to Congress, but the timing remains unclear. Bush aides appear to be treading carefully in the wake of Democratic leaders’ anger at Bush’s submission of the Colombia FTA without their assent. “We’re going to start working with Congress to figure out a path forward,” said one senior administration official.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who had said he would not consider the Korean agreement until beef exports resume, applauded the market reopening deal but said he would watch to see that it is implemented. “When U.S. beef is once again available in Korean grocery stores, I look forward to working with President Lee [Myung-bak] and his new government on moving our trade relationship forward,” Baucus said in a statement. “I will closely monitor the implementation of this new import protocol, and I expect great results.”
In a speech Thursday evening, Baucus called ongoing disputes over Korean barriers to U.S. autos a “bumpy patch” but said he was “confident that we can find a landing zone where all parties benefit.” In a letter to Bush this week, Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan and Sherrod Brown of Ohio said they “cannot support this trade agreement until Korea strengthens its commitment to open its markets to American autos, appliances and specialty crops.” House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., said today that “a last-minute, unenforceable, untested agreement on beef is not enough to satisfy Congress.”
Business leaders lined up to begin pushing the South Korea trade deal. “The business community is charged up and ready to take our campaign to expand trade and create new jobs in America to the Hill,” said Myron Brilliant, president of the U.S.-Korea Business Council and U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president. A National Cattlemen’s Beef Association official applauded the renewed beef exports and said the group would back a Korea FTA. President Bush and Lee will meet this weekend at Camp David. South Korea closed its market to U.S. beef in December 2003 over a case of contaminated beef. The market was partially reopened in January 2006, but the market effectively closed again in October 2007. The new protocol, which will take effect in mid-May, fully reopens the market to young cattle, which are considered less susceptible to disease.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.