AS U.S. AND KOREAN OFFICIALS proved last week, hard bargaining pays off. Their agreement Friday to open Korea's transportation markets gives U.S. companies the access they deserve and Korea a reasonable period to adjust to change.
Korea, like many Asian nations, has made life miserable for U.S. transportation companies. While U.S. ships can call at Korean ports, American companies largely have been barred from setting up the truck and rail links that are critical to good ocean service.Korea had agreed more than a year ago to open its trucking market but refused to implement changes until 1995. U.S. officials insisted on results by 1993. In the end, the two sides reached a sensible compromise: As we suggested here Friday, they split the difference and agreed Korea would liberalize trucking by March 1994. Separately, Korea also pledged to change laws by next June that bar U.S. freight consolidators from setting up shop.
The Federal Maritime Commission, which oversees U.S. shipping, was not involved in the talks. Nonetheless, the agency, acting independently, had threatened sanctions against Korean ship lines if the talks failed. The FMC's posturing, as it turned out, helped negotiators from the State and Transportation departments.
"I don't think we could have made the progress we did without the FMC's (threatened) actions," one of the negotiators told us. "It also helped that we could distance ourselves from what the FMC was doing."
Call it a "good cop, bad cop" approach to trade talks. Call it successful.