U.S. trade rep promises S. Korea FTA that 'levels playing field'

US - The top U.S. trade negotiator vowed Thursday she will bring to the Congress a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea that guarantees fair trading practices but asked that legislation be extended to make sure that it is passed without amendments.
calendar icon 16 February 2007
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"We will not bring back a free trade agreement with Korea that doesn't level the playing field. I mean, that is obviously a key component," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said as she testified before the Senate Finance Committee.

The best option is to complete the Korea FTA by the end-of-March deadline, she said.

"But obviously, if we are unable to do that, if we are unable to reach a bilaterally satisfactory FTA with Korea by the end of March, the the issues... will not be addressed, or will certainly not be addressed as well as they could be in a free trade agreement," she said.

Schwab reaffirmed that the beef issue with South Korea is a "very, very high priority" to Washington, she said.

"I think it has been very clear to any Korean official who has been listening to the U.S. Congress that the chances of us being able to close a free trade agreement and expect it to be approved by the U.S. Congress if the beef issue hasn't been resolved is pretty slim," she said.

The FTA negotiations entered the critical stage as the deadline nears for the two countries to wrap up a complete deal. The seventh round of talks just ended in Washington on Wednesday.

The U.S. needs to meet the deadline in order to pass it through the Congress under the trade promotion authority (TPA), a temporary legislation that requires a simple yes-or-no vote without amendments. The legislation expires in July.

The beef issue, although not an agenda item for the FTA, dampened talks when Seoul, after agreeing to partly resume import of U.S. products, rejected three consecutive shipments after discovering bone fragments in them. Seoul had said it would accept only boneless beef, still fearing health hazards after the outbreak of mad cow disease at an American cattle farm.

Source: Yonhap News
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