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Seoul should heed fallout from U.S. FTA: minister nominee

Yonhap News, Korea

Seoul should heed fallout from U.S. FTA: minister nominee

11 May 2011

SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) — South Korea should pay more attention to reducing the fallout from its free trade deal with the U.S. since it is linked to national interest, Seoul’s farm minister nominee said Wednesday.

Suh Kyu-yong, who was tapped to be the next farm minister late last week, said efforts must be made to carefully gauge the impact to the local agriculture and livestock sectors before lawmakers are asked to ratify the free trade agreement (FTA) signed in 2007.

The bilateral FTA has been held up due to new demands made by Washington, and the need to change some clauses in the timetable for market liberalization. South Korean farmers have also expressed worries that the agreement will open the market to an influx of cheap farm and meat products.

"Policies to minimize damages must be set up first, so efforts to persuade opposition parties and farmers can move forward," Suh said, without going into details.

The nominee, who will have to take part in a parliamentary confirmation hearing before he assumes office, stressed he will do his best to alleviate concerns.

In addition, Suh said that there is a need to tackle the issue of removing import restrictions on rice, and coping with the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) that caused Seoul to cull over 3.47 million heads of pigs and cows since late November. Damage caused by the FMD outbreak is estimated at around 3 trillion won (US$2.8 billion).

The former vice farm minister said other issues such as controlling the surge in farm prices cited for fueling inflationary pressure will be the top policy priorities once he becomes minister.