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FTA with U.S. Facing Gloomy Future

Posted January. 31, 2008 07:07,   


Despite U.S. President George W. Bush’s plea for early passage of the free trade agreement with Korea Monday, the deal faces a gloomy future in Washington.

The biggest obstacles are the congressional insistence on Korea’s unconditional opening of its beef market before ratification and renegotiation of terms on American cars and auto parts.

A diplomatic source in Washington, on the condition of anonymity, said beef is one of the biggest problems, but that the Democrat-controlled Congress will not budge an inch without resetting auto trade terms. For example, U.S. lawmakers want to set the tariff-free quota for Korean cars based on the number of American cars sold in Korea.

Seoul, however, has also refused to step back, saying further compromise of its position on auto trade will strengthen voices in Korea opposed to the accord.

The political situations in both countries are also making ratification harder. The agreement was introduced to the Korean legislature in September last year, but has remained in limbo because no lawmaker wants to discuss it with the general elections coming in April.

In the United States, the primaries leading to the November presidential election are drawing all the attention. Once the two major parties hold their conventions later this year, the U.S. Congress will probably remain idle for the rest of the year.

A U.S. congressman, who asked to remain anonymous, said it will take at least 104 days to push the bill through the House of Representatives and an additional 165 days through the Senate. He said that considering the timetable, the bill should be introduced to Congress at least by mid-April.

Reflecting the situation, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD.) said it is hard to say if Congress can ratify free trade pacts with Korea and Panama within this year.

Leading Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have also publicly announced their opposition to the free trade agreement with Korea.