The following is the full text of President Lee Myung-bak’s statement in a live TV broadcast at Cheong Wa Dae on 22 May to address the resumption of U.S. beef imports and ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA. Courtesy of the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOIS). For those who haven’t been following the Mad Cow debate, I’ll be adding a series of links at the bottom of this post in due course.
It has been almost three months since I was inaugurated as President. During that period, I have been working hard to live up to the aspirations of the entire Korean people with the idea that, “The economy must be revived without fail.” I have been striving all along with the sheer determination that I would lose no time in making Korea an advanced country we can all be proud of and one where ordinary citizens will be better off.
I understand, however, that many people are now concerned about the way the new Administration is dealing with state affairs. The Government has been intent on devising measures to support cattle farms that are likely to suffer difficulties because of the resumption of U.S. beef imports. But, to be honest, the Government was baffled by the spread of unfounded rumors about mad cow disease. Among other things, my heart ached when I saw even young students come out to stage candlelight vigils at the very Cheonggyecheon Plaza, which I worked with all my heart, mind and soul to restore. Their parents must have worried so much about them.
I admit that the Government has been lacking in efforts to sound out public opinion and try to seek people’s understanding. I also humbly accept the criticism that I have been negligent in carefully reading the public’s mind. I very much regret all this.
The Government has an unwavering policy in place. Public health can never be compromised under any circumstance. After additional consultations with the U.S. Government, the Korean Government was able to secure a document that guarantees that the safety of beef to be imported will be in compliance with international standards and that the quality of beef will be the same as that consumed by Americans. It is also stipulated in the document that the Korean Government will take sovereign measures to halt beef imports immediately if any situation endangering public health occurs. Taking this opportunity, the Government will work out all possible measures to enhance food safety to the level of advanced countries.
Over the past 10 years, the global economy has enjoyed an unprecedented boom, but Korea has failed to go with the current of the times. Consequently, some competing countries are coming up right behind us, and the gaps with the advanced countries are growing wider. Now, we are at a critical juncture. If we now fail to join the ranks of advanced countries, we might never have another chance. Korea now stands at a crossroads of historical significance?whether it can rise to the rank of advanced countries or not.
Today, the global economy is faced with the biggest crisis since the oil shock of the 1970s. The price of oil, food and raw materials is skyrocketing. To make matters worse, the price hikes are coupled with the U.S. financial crisis. Soaring commodity prices and unemployment are weighing heavily on many people of the world. We are not an exception to this global phenomenon. Now is high time for us to strengthen the economic fundamentals of our country and make watertight preparations to turn this crisis into an opportunity as early as possible.
More than 70 percent of the Korean economy depends on foreign trade. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement no doubt constitutes a new way out for the Korean economy. The accord will help increase exports and foreign investment as well as national income. First and foremost, the KORUS FTA will create over 300,000 new jobs. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for the desperate young job seekers in particular.
We need to secure better trade conditions than our competitors in the United States, the biggest market in the world. And the KORUS FTA is the answer. Of course, some sectors like agriculture are likely to undergo difficulties. For them, the Government has already prepared comprehensive support measures. If necessary, we will work out other follow-up measures.
The KORUS FTA is a very valuable fruit that the previous Administration and the incumbent 17th National Assembly achieved overcoming various difficulties. It represents a national task that the Korean people reached a consensus on, as they believed it was required more than anything else for the country to have a new growth engine.
The United States may be able to ratify it and readily make it into law, but Korea has to pass 24 different pieces of legislation as follow-up measures. That is why the country has to move more expeditiously than the United States. The 17th National Assembly has already deliberated on the FTA 59 times. There have also been a number of public and parliamentary hearings.
That is why I requested the National Assembly to convene the current May session. I appreciate the fact that the ruling and opposition members of the incumbent National Assembly opened the session at the end of its term in an extraordinary manner. As the current session will soon expire, however, I earnestly urge the legislature to transcend partisan differences and make a resolute determination for the enhancement of the standard of living and in the national interest. When the 17th National Assembly ratifies the KORUS FTA in a bipartisan consensus, it will be recorded as a great accomplishment in Korean political history.
My fellow citizens,
The Government will promise to be more humble in approaching the needs of the people. I take responsibility for all the deficiencies that the Administration has incurred in its initial months. On this occasion, the Administration and I pledge to go about doing business in a more careful manner and see to it that the economy will make a turn-around and create more jobs.
Let us all get united as one and march together. When we join forces, we can overcome hardships more quickly than any other country. Let us have confidence that we can certainly tide over any type of difficulties and build up an advanced leading nation. Let us all join hands and forge ahead to construct a prosperous nation, compassionate society and strong Republic. We can do it without fail.
Thank you very much.
- More links on the KORUS FTA background
- USTR welcomes full reopening of Korean beef market to US Beef, press release from the Office of the US Trade Representative, 18 April
- They may already have vCJD, Michael Breen, Korea Times, 8 May
- South Korean internet geeks trigger panic over US ‘tainted beef’ imports, (London) Times, 9 May
- Anti-Korean Protest by US Cows, Michael Breen, Korea Times, 15 May
- Court acquits ‘PD Diary’ staffers in U.S. beef case, JoongAng Daily, 21 January 2010