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  Trade - Legal News


An Egyptian court ruled on Monday against the government's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia — a landmark verdict likely to deepen tensions with the kingdom and embarrass President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo rejected an appeal by el-Sissi's government against a lower court's decision in June to annul the islands' handover agreement. That deal was signed last April during a high-profile visit by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, who during the visit pledged billions of dollars to Egypt in loans and investments.

The agreement was condemned by many Egyptians who perceived it as a land sell-off. Others saw the surrender of Egyptian territory by el-Sissi and his government as a worrying precedent.

The deal also sparked the largest protests against el-Sissi's two-year rule. Ignoring the legal process, the government late last month sent the deal to parliament — a 596-seat chamber packed with el-Sissi supporters — for ratification.

Monday's verdict was met by an eruption of jubilation by activists and lawyers in the Nile-side Cairo courtroom, with some singing the national anthem and chanting patriotic slogans.


US and South Korea reach Free Trade Agreement

  Trade  -   POSTED: 2007/04/02 09:14

United States and South Korea and reached a major free trade agreement Monday that will drastically boost their exports, officials from both sides said. Han Dong-man, a spokesman at Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said the talks were successfully wrapped up after overnight nonstop negotiations that involved top level officials from the two countries.

"The agreement has been made," Han said, adding South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia will hold a joint news conference at 2:30 p.m. to formally announce the deal.

U.S. Trade Representative spokesman Steve Norton also confirmed the agreement.

The deal was reached minutes before the U.S. legal deadline of 1 p.m. Monday ran out, ending nearly 10 months of tough negotiations that were marred by violent protests.

The deadline requires U.S. President George W. Bush to notify Congress of his intention to sign a deal under his "fast-track" trade promotion authority.

That authority requires a mandatory 90-day congressional review of a deal before voting for or against without amendments. South Korea has no time limitations for getting approval from its parliament where supporters are believed to outnumber opponents.

Details of the FTA agreement were not officially known but Korean government sources said the last-minute hurdles included automobiles and beef. Other prominent issues such as textiles, pork and oranges had been cleared earlier, they said.

The deal will knock down tariff and non-tariff barriers between the world's largest and 10th-largest economies, which did $74 billion in two-way trade in 2006. Some studies show that a deal would boost total trade by up to 20 percent.

For the U.S., a deal with South Korea would be its biggest since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1994.

The talks have been marred by violent protests. On Sunday, a 56-year-old Seoul taxi-driver doused flammable liquid over his body and set it ablaze to protest against the proposed deal. Doctors said he was in serious condition.

Under the deal, the two countries will open up large areas in agriculture, merchandise and investments, with partial openings in broadcasting, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

Following the deal, Korean consumers will enjoy cheap American oranges and vehicles, but will have to pay more to buy American pharmaceuticals.

The deal will strengthen intellectual property rights, thus criminalizing acts of copyright infringement of online content. Television stations will also be obliged to show more American movies and programs.

Korean rice growers will not be affected by the deal as the staple food was excluded from the accord.

Agriculture was the most serious stumbling block to the 10-month-long FTA talks, together with textiles, anti-dumping, automobiles and pharmaceuticals.

Two major issues - beef and automobiles - delayed the conclusion of the deal hours before the Monday 1 a.m. deadline.

The U.S. demanded that Korea eliminate tariffs on American cars immediately, while the U.S. said it would abolish tariffs on all Korean vehicles within 10 years, and within three years for passenger cars.

Washington has been calling for Seoul to revise its auto tax system by levying taxes according to prices, not engine capacity. Under the deal, "Japanese'' cars produced in American plants will likely be exported to Korea.

Negotiators were locked in a tug-of-war on whether Korea will import American beef unconditionally after May when the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announces its final review on the status of the U.S. in combating mad cow disease.

At a news conference early Sunday, lawyer Song Ki-ho said, "It is unnecessary for Korea to import U.S. beef containing bone fragments even if the OIE announces U.S. beef is safe to eat in May.''

"Korea and the U.S. have already reached a verbal consensus in which Korea will soften its beef quarantine rules in several months,'' said Park Sang-pyo, chief of the Veterinarian Solidarity for Public Health.

Park also said that Korea has reached a behind-the-scenes deal on beef imports, quoting J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute (AMI).

If the deal is signed Monday, President George W. Bush can take advantage of his fast-track authority, which expires on July 1, after notifying the Congress of his plan to sign an accord with Korea.

Before the Monday deadline, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice separately talked with President Roh Moo-hyun and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Song Min-soon to put final touches to the accord.


US-Korea FTA Talks Extended by 48 Hours

  Trade  -   POSTED: 2007/03/31 08:43

The United States and South Korea decided to extend their free trade agreement talks by two days until next Monday.

At a news briefing early Saturday morning, chief Korean negotiator Kim Jong-hoon said, "Negotiations may continue to the noon of April 2."

In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) spokesman Sean Spicer said April 1 is the deadline for Congressional notification under the Bush administration’s trade promotion authority.

U.S. negotiators are required to notify the Congress of the final results by 6 a.m., April 2 (KST) and 5 p.m., April 1 (ET).

Both sides were heading toward an agreement on their free trade talks, which could be regarded as one of the most significant developments in their bilateral relations.

Should they strike the deal, the United States will become Korea’s fourth trading partner with which to sign an FTA after Chile, Singapore and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The deal would make Korea the largest FTA partner in 13 years for the U.S. since it launched the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.

President Roh Moo-hyun and his American counterpart George W. Bush are trying to preliminary sign off on the deal before lawmakers from the two countries look into the accord for ratification.

The deal will go into effect after the National Assembly and the U.S. Congress ratify it. Following the ratification process, which will last until June 30, the leaders of the two countries will sign a final agreement.

The talks have sparked anger among farmers but have earned a positive assessment from manufacturers, including the Federation of Korean Industries and the Korea International Trade Association.

The accord will likely be possible after South Korean and U.S. negotiators clear last-minute hurdles blocking the deal ahead of a deadline only hours away.

To meet the deadline, the two sides agreed to declare the accord, with promises to codify technical details over the next two days.

After 422 days of tough negotiations, the Roh Moo-hyun administration is looking to clinch the deal, which is regarded as one of the major achievements of his presidency.

The Korean government unveiled a package of measures to help farmers and other people who would lose out in the FTA.

The Ministry of Finance and Economy said in a report to the National Assembly that it would provide relief measures to the losers but this would entail more of a burden on taxpayers.

The deal would tear down tariff and non-tariff barriers between the world’s largest and 11th largest economies. Two-way trade, which topped $74 billion last year, would increase by 20 percent annually, according to the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

Chang Se-moon, a professor at the University of South Alabama, said the most important point of the FTA is that Korea will enter the U.S. market earlier than other nations, such as Japan, Taiwan and China.

"Korea will clearly have advantages in bilateral trade with the United States by expanding its market share at the expense of Japan, Taiwan and China who are struggling to sign an FTA with the U.S."

He added that the enhanced sense of security following the FTA's approval will make Korea more attractive for foreign investment. "Trade agreements like this have the effect of fortifying relations between the two countries."

"An FTA agreement can be good for both the U.S. and South Korea," U.S Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a speech to a meeting of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. "It is an important trade agreement, but it also has to be grounded on rational and predictable approaches to trade issues."

According to sources, in return for allowing full imports of American beef, Korea got American concessions on excluding rice from the crucial deal.

Across the sprawling South Korean capital, over 10,000 police officers were deployed to guard the presidential office and other major government buildings from anti-FTA protesters.

Protest leaders organized a large-scale candlelight vigil in the city center Friday evening that drew 5,000 people.


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