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USTR Nominee Backs Off From Hard-line Stance on FTA

Posted March. 14, 2009 09:43,   


The nominee for the U.S. Trade Representative struck a positive tone on the free trade agreement between Korea and the United States yesterday, saying he is generally supportive of the deal despite issues that might need addressing.

Ron Kirk presented a written statement to this effect in his Senate confirmation hearing. The Senate confirmed his nomination.

On a written question by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Kirk said he is fully aware of disputed auto provisions and will cooperate with senators to resolve their concerns. He also said he will work with stakeholders in the United States and Korean counterparts to deal with issues related to the accord.

On other provisions that need renegotiation, Kirk said he will not rule out other issues to be reviewed but generally agrees with the accord.

When Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) asked about Kirk’s willingness to push for the full opening of the Korean beef market as a precondition for the agreement ratification, Kirk avoided an immediate answer by saying that beef from cattle younger than 30 months old is selling well in Korea.

He also added that he would work closely with the secretary of agriculture to engage Korea as well as other trading partners to normalize trade in beef in these important markets.

On if he will prioritize the full opening of the beef markets in Korea, Japan and China to U.S. beef as the U.S. Trade Representative, he said “It’s our top priority.”

In the written statement, Kirk relented from his initial strong stance. In the confirmation hearing Monday, he pledged to change the free trade accord with Korea, calling the agreement “unacceptable” and “just not fair.”

Experts, however, interpreted his comments as political rhetoric to avert criticism from senators who oppose the accord.

In Seoul, a Korean trade official said, “As soon as the new U.S. trade representative assumes his post, we will start negotiations for a detailed timetable to implement the accord.”

A non-governmental committee on the agreement comprising the heads of business associations and industry representatives also issued a statement to urge early ratification of the pact.

sechepa@donga.com ceric@donga.com