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South Korea To Push For More Free Trade Agreements

by Mary Swire, for, Hong Kong

30 November 2007

Free trade agreements have featured high on the agenda for the South Korean authorities this week, with announcements that the country plans to push for such deals with China and Russia, and discussion of the sticking points in negotiations with the United States.

According to reports in the national and international media this week, Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon revealed that feasibility studies are currently being undertaken with regard to FTAs with China, Russia, and several South American nations.

Plans to launch FTA talks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries were also announced last week, and the Korean authorities have signed a new Free Trade Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), covering services.

Commenting on the FTA between his country and the United States, which was signed in June, but remains to be approved by lawmakers in both countries, the South Korean Trade Minister announced on Tuesday, according to Reuters, that:

"We do anticipate the bill to be ratified sometime before the end of this administration next February."

However, he warned that pressure from legislators in the United States with regard to the Korean position on beef imports (currently restricted as a result of a 2003 outbreak of 'Mad Cow Disease') and on the importation of US-manufactured automobiles, was not helping matters.

"It is also worth mentioning that the Korean public does not appreciate the rhetoric 'no beef, no FTA' by some US congressmen," Reuters quoted the Minister as announcing at a gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

The FTA is also facing opposition from the Democrat majority in Congress, which has sought the inclusion of provisions on labor rights and the environment in all such agreements.

Kim further cautioned, according to an AFP report, that if it did not approve the FTA as a result of these objections, the United States would be missing out on a "golden opportunity" to gain an advantage over the EU, China and other trade rivals by securing "a firm position in the Korean Market".

This position was reportedly echoed by the chief US negotiator of the bilateral FTA, and assistant US Trade Representative, Wendy Cutler, who warned, according to the AP, that:

"Korea is not standing still, waiting for us to approve the FTA," adding that: "Failure to act on this landmark deal would severely damage our credibility in the Asia-Pacific region."

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