Friday, August 11, 2006

The Qatar Strategy

Here's a breaking story from the Hankyoreh. Seems the Korean and US governments have decided to negotiate some of the more contentious issues of its current FTA in another country. This may remind some of the strategies of multinational trade agreements after the Seattle protests of 1999. At each meeting after, the venues became much more fortified -- remember the mediveal fences and walls at Quebec City (FTAA) and Genoa (G8) -- until they just decided to leave democratic countries where international activists could gather altogether so as not to face oppossition. Of course, this situation is slightly different in that it is a bilateral agreement (and a big one at that), but the theme of moving negotiation venues as far away from opposition rings true in this case and is designed to let the more controversial issues slip out off the public's radar.

From today's Hankyoreh:

Seoul, Washington to hold FTA negotiations in third country

Seoul and Washington reportedly have a plan to hold separate negotiations on the controversial issue of pharmaceutical pricing in a third country, ahead of the third round of FTA talks to be held in the U.S.

According to Rep. Hyun Ae-ja of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), and confirmed anonymously by more than one government official yesterday, the two nations are coordinating their opinions over the time and location of the third-country negotiations. The United States, in particular, has suggested Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia or Singapore, and has proposed that the meeting happen in August.

A government official said, "These separate negotiations are official, not a behind-the-scenes meeting. In addition, the two sides haven’t yet agreed over the time and place. Whether or not to have the negotiations at all is unclear, as well."

During a forum regarding the controversial issue of pharmaceutical pricing being subject to negotiation, Rep. Hyun said, "To reach agreement on medicine pricing, South Korea and the U.S. decided to hold behind-the-scenes negotiations in a third country prior to the third official round of FTA talks due to be held in Washington."

In response, Jeon Man-bok, an official of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, remarked, "This is an issue to be disclosed by the U.S. and South Korea simultaneously, so wait and see," suggesting that the informal negotiations were indeed in the cards.

Rep. Hyun said that The Ministry of Health and Welfare earlier called the introduction of the so-called positive list system for medical pricing, currently used in South Korea, "is a matter of policy sovereignty, not a target of negotiation, but in fact, [the ministry] is bargaining with the U.S., unable to reject its demands. It is inappropriate to have separate talks on sensitive medical supplies in a third nation, which will attract relatively less attention [to the important issue]," he added.

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