S. Korea will not give up key farm goods at FTA talks with U.S.: official

SOUTH KOREA - South Korea's chief agriculture negotiator for free trade talks with the United States reiterated Wednesday that key agricultural goods must be excluded from a bilateral trade deal.
calendar icon 15 March 2007
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The remark collides with the U.S. insistence that no exceptions be made in a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). The two sides have held eight rounds of talks so far, but no deal has been reached due to differences over issues like agriculture, autos, textiles, certain services and trade dispute settlements. "Seoul's position on the opening of key farm goods, such as rice, has been firm from the outset of the negotiations," Assistant Agriculture Minister Min Dong-seok told a local radio station. He said South Korea had offered to break this impasse by offering "in-house" concessions, like the lowering of tariffs for other agricultural items that the U.S. is interested in. "We have conveyed our intention to adjust the current 40 percent tariffs on beef imports if the U.S. accepts our demands," he said.

The move could greatly boost sales of American beef, which accounted for 68 percent of beef imports to the country before Seoul imposed a ban in late 2003.

On mounting pressure from Washington to allow bone-in beef to be sold in South Korea, Min said U.S. demands are too "excessive" to be accepted.

Under last year's agreement, Seoul agreed to import boneless beef from cattle under 30 months old.

"We have countered by stating our willingness to renegotiate the import agreement reached in January 2006 if the U.S. receives the 'controlled risk country' classification from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in May," Min said.

The OIE recently released preliminary reports that indicated the U.S. would be reclassified as a 'controlled risk country' when it releases its final report.

If the U.S. officially becomes a controlled risk country, it can technically export all beef from cattle under 30 months old not containing specified risk materials (SRMs). SRMs pose the greatest risk of transmitting mad cow disease to humans and include such parts as head bones, brains, vertebral columns, spinal cords, dorsal root ganglions and certain internal organs.

Source: The Hankyoreh
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