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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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