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Korean, US Gov`ts Show Subtle Differences over FTA

Posted October. 28, 2010 11:13,   


Korea and the U.S. showed subtle differences Tuesday in talks to conclude a free trade agreement in San Francisco.

Their working-level talks covered revision of the accord, and while Washington wants results before the Group of 20 Summit in Seoul next month, Seoul is in no rush. The differing positions could affect the results of the dialogue.

Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk held their first talks Tuesday since the leaders of both sides mentioned the agreement at the Toronto G-20 summit in June.

Four months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his strong will to seek congressional approval of the deal after holding working-level consultations with Korea ahead of the Toronto summit.

Rough negotiations are expected, however, because of lingering differences over sensitive areas in unofficial contacts. Washington wants additional concessions in the car and beef sectors, so the two sides failed to set a date for official talks.

The U.S. reportedly insisted that Korea lower non-tariff barriers for cars and resume imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or older.

Seoul said beef and the agreement are two separate issues in making it clear that no revision will be made in the agreement, “be it a period or a comma.”

Both sides finally began official talks with under 20 days left before the G-20 summit after Kim flew to San Francisco at Washington’s request.

Though he repeatedly said there is not enough time for a conclusion before the G-20 summit, a Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry official hinted at a change of position by saying, “A dramatic agreement could be reached at the last minute just like in all negotiations.”

Further fueling speculation of a last-minute compromise is the Obama administration’s attempt to make a breakthrough before the Nov. 2 mid-term elections.

Seoul is known to be considering making concessions in cars and win U.S. cooperation in the financial sector, but will stay firm on beef.

A ministry official said Washington is “fully aware” that at a time when U.S. beef is selling well on the Korean market, importing beef made from cattle of all ages could cause Korean consumers to lose confidence in U.S. beef. “In the end, the key issue will likely be automobiles,” he said.