The recent announcement that South Korea had blacklisted Creekstone Farms, after finding a bone fragment in the 9.3-ton shipment of boneless beef, came as a surprise to few people. But it did confirm, as everyone had been saying, that the agreement was not viable for a sustainable beef trade.
It also confirmed South Korea's intentions to appear to adhere to internationally recognized trade standards while doing everything possible to restrict access.
This week, National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Mike John, in a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, asked for trade to be stopped (technically) until a legitimate agreement can be reached. The industry has been perplexed ever since USDA signed the agreement, realizing early on that it wasn't feasible.
It may have been pragmatic to accept the 20-month provision to get trade started in Japan, realizing Japan needed time to prepare itself to come into line with international standards. South Korea, however, has never tried to deny the standards, just choosing to delay and confuse the issue on enforcement.
Some argue that, with November's Democratic victory in Congress, the chance for a trade agreement with South Korea may have slipped away. But the fact is South Korea needs the U.S. far more than the U.S. needs South Korea, not only economically but for national security reasons.
The U.S. simply is being out-negotiated and its importance minimized by the South Koreans. South Korea can't afford a trade war; nor can it afford to alienate the U.S. as the world community moves to defuse the North Korean crisis. It's time South Korea understands it's in its best interests to take steps to avoid an escalation of national tensions at such a crucial time.
"Fair trade or no trade" is a mantra the U.S. government has failed to enforce. The U.S. is merely asking for trading partners to live up to their agreements; she needs to make it clear that failure to do so will bring severe consequences.
Refusing to enforce a fair-trade policy because of a desire not to appear a bully is coming dangerously close to shifting the world back to protectionist and isolationist trade policies. The consequences of that are dire. The future of trade, and the corresponding positive impact it's had and continues to have on our industry, is in jeopardy if we fail to force our partners to live up to their agreements.
-- Troy Marshall