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U.S. and South Korean Trade Talks Concluded

U.S.and South Korean Trade Talks Concluded

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. and South Korean trade negotiators wrapped up four days of talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement held up by differences over beef and auto imports.

The chief U.S. trade official said the negotiators meeting in Maryland will return to their capitals to brief President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on details of the revised trade pact. An announcement of the details in the revision is not expected before negotiators meet with the two presidents.

"We've made substantial progress in our discussions," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said December 3 at the conclusion of meetings with Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and his team of negotiators. "It's time now for the leaders to review this progress before we move forward."

The trade ministers met in Columbia, Maryland, outside Washington. At issue is the 2007 U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement that was originally negotiated by the administration of former President George W. Bush. It became embroiled in congressional concerns about auto and beef trade with South Korea. The agreement was signed June 30, 2007, but has not been ratified by Congress.

Obama announced at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Toronto in June that he would try to complete modifications to the agreement before the end of the year and send it to Congress for final approval. The president met again with Lee in Seoul on the sidelines of a G20 summit in November, but talks ended before a conclusion was reached.

The presidents discussed ways to proceed with the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement and agreed to strengthen commercial ties while also pursuing efforts to remove trade barriers.

One key obstacle was a 2.5 percent tariff the United States levies on Korean-built autos. News reports published December 3 indicate South Korea agreed to accept a five-year phase-out of the auto tariff, which is expected to open the way to the agreement's ratification.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, South Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner and eighth-largest export market. In 2009, the United States exported $28.6 billion in goods to South Korea and imported another $39.2 billion of products. The United States exported 7,663 cars and light trucks to South Korea last year while importing 476,857 from South Korea.

The trade talks were led by Kirk and Kim and also included Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Ford Motor Company Chief Executive Alan Mulally and officials from the United Auto Workers union.

If finally approved, the U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement would become the second-largest free-trade agreement after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which are the United States' largest trading partners. The United States is also attempting to complete free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

White House advisers have said that expanding economic integration and trade liberalization in the Asia-Pacific region is a vital element in the United States being able to export more and to grow the domestic economy. Expanding U.S. exports is a significant part of Obama's National Export Initiative ( ), which aims to double American exports by 2015 while lessening U.S. consumer demand as a driving force of the U.S. economy.


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