`Full Beef Imports Prerequisite for FTA Approval by Congress’

SOUTH KOREA - South Korea’s senior trade official said Tuesday that it would not be easy for the U.S. Congress to endorse the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA), often dubbed as the ``KORUS FTA,’’ without a full resumption of beef imports to South Korea.
calendar icon 4 July 2007
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Deputy Trade Minister Lee Hye-min also said that his government expects the U.S. to work to exempt entry visas for more than 10,500 Korean professionals since the two countries signed the pact last weekend.

``I think the agreement cannot be ratified smoothly in the U.S. Congress, unless the beef issue is cleared up first,’’ Lee, who served as Seoul’s deputy chief negotiator for about a year, said in a series of radio interviews.

Korea has only permitted imports of boneless U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months old in accordance with a ban following the discovery of mad cow disease in late 2003.

But officials say the country will have to resume imports of all U.S. beef products -- even those containing bones -- as early as September despite lingering concerns among some South Korean consumers.

Lee said the government expects Washington to make its best efforts on the professional visa quota issue, though it was not an official part of the free trade negotiations.

Officials and business executives here have asked the U.S. for more than a decade to allow them to enter and travel the country without visas. Lee said the officials plan to contact the U.S. Congress directly to seek a guaranteed number of visa waiver quotas for professionals.

``Since the South Korea-U.S. FTA is bigger than the U.S.-Australia FTA in terms of population and trade volume, the visa waiver quota for Koreans should be more than 10,500, the number guaranteed for Australia,’’ he said.

Negotiators had also delivered a request to include Korea in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, in which foreigners traveling from certain nations are permitted to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.

U.S. President George W. Bush renewed his commitment to work with the Congress to add Korea and other nations to the program in a statement, Saturday, right after the formal signing of the FTA.

``I am committed to continuing to work with Congress to produce legislation that would strengthen our country's security by implementing this initiative,’’ he said in the statement.

On Saturday, Korea and the U.S. formally signed the free trade pact, which would eliminate or phase out 95 percent of tariffs on commodities within three years after the deal comes into effect.

Source: The Korea Times
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