Korea Times, 11 May 2005
Korea, US to Discuss FTA in Cheju Meeting
By Seo Jee-yeon
South Korea will discuss the possibility of a free trade pact with the United States at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers’ meeting.
Trade ministers from 21 APEC member countries are to meet June 1-3 on Cheju Island to talk about free trade and other issues ahead of the APEC leaders’ summit scheduled for Pusan in November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) said Wednesday.
Trade minister Kim Hyun-chong and Robert Portman, the newly appointed U.S. trade representative, are expected to hold bilateral talks during the trade ministers’ meeting, the ministry said.
``The meeting may result in some progress, but there are no guarantees, given the prickly nature of the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations,’’ a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Korea and the U.S. have yet to start formal talks on an FTA, though they have held several rounds of working-level meetings to explore its feasibility.
The two countries are divided over several issues such as Seoul’s screen quota system and its ban on U.S. beef that has been in effect since December 2003.
The U.S. has maintained that resolving the screen quota issue, which requires domestic theaters to run local movies for a certain number of days, is a key precondition for the signing of a bilateral investment treaty and the launch of FTA talks.
There has been also little progress in the beef issue. Korea is mulling over when to start formal talks that could lead to a reopening of its beef market to U.S. imports.
The U.S. trade representative has said that reopening the Korean market to U.S. beef is a key objective of its policies.
Talks on bilateral free trade are also expected to cover the matter of agriculture liberalization, which many Korean farmers may object to.
Korean manufacturing companies back an FTA with the U.S., saying it would help exports and boost the country’s annual economic growth by about 0.7 percent.
The APEC forum, set up in 1989, groups 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific rim region, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, China, Australia and Russia.