Agriculture Hindering S. Korea-Japan FTA Talks: Official
SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) — Agriculture issues are holding up progress in free trade agreement (FTA) talks between South Korea and Japan, a government official said Monday.
Oh Young-ho, the deputy minister for commerce and industry, told reporters that Japan is expressing concerns about opening its fields related with agriculture and seafood to South Korea and that this is one reason why ongoing talks are running into snags.
The two countries are currently pushing for the signing of an FTA by the end of 2005 after opening talks late last year.
"Tokyo is concerned about South Korean imports hurting local farmers and fishermen and has requested certain items be excluded from low duties that will come with an FTA," the official said, saying this is hard to accept.
Oh did not go into details but said seafood, such as dried laver, as well as farm produce and certain processed foods that are made by small companies, are vulnerable to an open market.
The official, who is an expert in trade, said the summit meeting earlier in the month between President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to be able to break the ice to get talks moving forward again.
The trade expert said South Korea’s strategy on the FTA is to strive for "overall balance" with the country’s agricultural sector profiting from a possible pact with Tokyo, while its manufacturers will gain from low duties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
On other trade issues, the deputy minister said Seoul is holding talks with Washington to prevent Chinese goods, especially textiles, from using South Korea as a means to enter the U.S. market.
He said the United States is trying to keep open the option of imposing countervailing duties on Chinese goods that hurt its domestic manufacturers, and in order for this to stick it is asking for the cooperation of its trading partners.
"Details have to be worked out but we are open to a memorandum of understanding to that effect," he said.
The official said that despite the declining competitiveness of South Korean textiles, it is still an important source of growth and employment, and needs the support of the government.
He said South Korean manufacturers still have an edge in designs, dyeing and chemical fibers. The deputy minister said that because the latter is sensitive to the movement of oil prices, the government called on oil companies to refrain from raising prices.