No high-level meeting planned to resolve U.S. FTA issues

SOUTH KOREA - No high-level talks are planned for the near future to resolve outstanding issues that are holding up talks between South Korea and the United States for a free trade pact, a government official said Monday.
calendar icon 22 January 2007
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Bae Jong-ha, head of agriculture-sector negotiations, said speculation about an imminent "big deal" to iron out sticking points could not be confirmed, and hinted that such a deal will probably not take place until the seventh free trade agreement (FTA) talks planned for Feb. 11-14 in Washington. He also said Seoul is not planning to send a revised offer of tariff concessions to Washington.

Agriculture is a major obstacle in the trade talks, with South Korea insisting on protection for its farmers. The U.S. is calling for full dismantling of tariffs.

"Now is not the right time to hold high-level talks to seek compromises," the director general of international affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said. Bae did not elaborate except to say that past deals involving major trade issues were sometimes resolved by direct talks between presidents of respective countries.

He then said that judging by past FTAs, last-minute marathon negotiations may take place.

"In the Canada-Chile FTA deal, talks dragged on without stopping for a month, while in the U.S.-Australia pact, last-minute intensive negotiations took place for three weeks," he said. South Korea and the United States have held six rounds of negotiations so far.

Of the 1,531 items that are covered in the agriculture segment of the FTA negotiations, South Korea has set aside 235, including rice, as sensitive produce that should be excluded from the FTA.

Source: The Hankyoreh

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