Though I have been asked my opinion of the presidential election here by several people, I have to admit that I have little in the way of novel insight about the change in Korea's political trajectory.

I am hoping to get some better ideas from the Fulbrights who are actually experts in this field when I see them this weekend.

Clearly, though, relations with the U.S. at the official level in terms of strategic security policy will remain strong and interdependent (or co-dependent?).

Lee is a critic of the Roh administration's policy toward the United States.

He has repeatedly said: ``The incumbent government has tried to change the pillar of the Korea-U.S. alliance without any blueprint and thereby weakened relations between the two allies.''

``Restoring the Korea-U.S. alliance based on the established friendship'' is also among the seven goals of the MB doctrine.


and there may be some mitigation of the two Koreas' integration push (and Lee has made that clear), though my feeling is that if the economy stays strong than the ROK's development penetration of the North is really rewriting things on the ground in important ways.

But I have been woefully wrong before.

The real story to watch I think is that economic ties will almost certainly be deepened by the likely passage of the free trade agreement (FTA), which is one of the biggest issues at the moment, of course, and of which Lee is extremely supportive.

As the Korea Times reported today:

It's not only the Korean citizens eagerly awaiting President-elect Lee Myung-bak ― the ``bulldozer'' known to turn the impossible into possible ― to restore the country's economic glory.

Foreign businesses here that may have been silently rooting for the former Hyundai CEO for his investment-friendly campaign pledges have been quick to welcome his landslide victory Wednesday, many calling attention to their own agendas.

The lingering beef issue stalling the ratification of the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) topped the order of business for the U.S. lobbying group, the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM).


The biggest issues are agricultural. Korean farmers, wise as they are, have this sneaking suspicion that free trade will be an economic tsunami for them.


Many experts forecast that Lee, a strong advocate of FTAs, will sign off on existing, incomplete deals and go after many more.

And the beef issue dogging the KORUS deal is expected to find a fresh solution, as the former Seoul mayor said earlier this year, ``People are perhaps overly sensitive about bone-in beef, but they should also look at the flipside of being able to enjoy cheaper meat, too.''

He added that the stereotypical mindset that ``FTAs will kill farmers'' should be dismissed.


Just one day after the election, the conservative winner renewed his promise to boost business sentiment for foreign investors through deregulation.


That drive to cheapness via free trade can have its flipside, no? Just ask American textiles workers, steel workers, or any industrial worker. They are easy to find, they are working over at the Wal-mart peddling Chinese made goods.

It is not unusual that Korean agricultural interests are wondering what Free Trade with the U.S. might actually look like. Adam Smith it is not.

Less regulation and open markets for enormously subsidized American farmers and beef producers-- that is a recipe that perhaps we should let the Mexicans teach Koreans.

It sounds completely counter-intutive that Mexicans can't raise corn cheaper locally than massive American agribusiness can import it, but it is so. NAFTA has about devastated farmers in Mexico since U.S. corn has been progressively let into their market (and, unintendedly, led many of them to move North).

And the real test is going to start in a couple of weeks on Jan. 1 when full blown free trade in corn is instituted:



SAN SALVADOR EL SECO, Mexico (Reuters) - Cheap U.S. corn will flood into Mexico in January when trade barriers are lifted, pitting local farmers against each other over how to protect the crop that has fed Mexico for thousands of years.

Mexico is to scrap import duties of U.S. corn on January 1, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in a move that will allow the world's No. 1 producer to expand its market in the country that claims to have discovered corn.

Mexican growers are debating whether to turn to genetically modified strains of corn to resist the U.S. challenge, or to mechanize production but keep local corn strains GMO-free.

Either way, millions of Mexican farmers, many of them living just above subsistence, will struggle to compete with heavily subsidized U.S. corn despite high international corn prices.

"All the inequalities leave us unprepared for the opening," said Carlos Salazar the head of a national corn growers' association who works with farmers in the eastern town of San Salvador El Seco, where flat fields of corn and cactus stretch for miles below three snow-capped volcanoes.

Corn tariffs have gradually been phased out since the trade deal was implemented in 1994, and imports of yellow corn from the United States to Mexico have skyrocketed by about 240 percent compared to the decade before NAFTA. Mexico imported over 7 million metric tons of U.S. yellow corn in 2006.

Imported yellow corn, mostly used for animal feed, now accounts for close to 35 percent of local consumption and is likely to increase next year.

The biggest worry for Mexican farmers is that zero barriers could give U.S. producers incentives to grow more white corn, Mexico's principal crop, which is used to make tortillas and other famed foods.


Now, I don't know if this just a coincidence, but the very same day that Lee is elected, the "most viewed photo" announced on the Korea Times' website is this one of Mexican clowns celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Basilica of Guadalupe.

I leave it to you to determine the significance of this, if any.

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