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South Korea mulls clearing way to free-trade pact with US

Tehran Times, 25 September 2005

South Korea mulls clearing way to free-trade pact with U.S.

WASHINGTON (AFP) — South Korea will seriously consider resolving trade issues with the United States that are dampening efforts to forge a free-trade agreement, South Korean Deputy Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo said Friday.

But he could not provide a time frame by which the two allies could formally launch talks for an FTA even though American business groups want them to be inaugurated when President George W. Bush visits South Korea in November.

"I cannot give you the definite time frame," Han, who is also finance and economy minister, told reporters after speaking to leaders of the U.S.-Korea Business Council. On the possibility of the FTA talks being launched when Bush visits South Korea, he said that some bilateral trade issues had existed for some time and, "It is quite natural" for the two countries "to exercise our best efforts to minimize the trading conflict."

"So the issues between Korea and the United States will certainly get the very serious consideration by the Korean government for resolving those issues in an appropriate time frame," Han said.

Bold actions

In a policy paper distributed at the meeting Friday, the U.S.-Korea Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul urged the South Korean government to take "bold actions" to resolve key long-standing trade issues with the United States in the entertainment, agricultural, pharmaceutical, automotive and telecommunication sectors.

In particular, the paper said, a decision by Seoul to reduce its so-called screen quota would send an important signal of its readiness to enter into FTA talks.

The screen quota, which limits the dates and screen time allowed for foreign films, is an "unfair impediment" to commerce for the U.S. movie industry, the paper said, adding that the issue had held up a bilateral investment treaty for several years.

The business groups urged President Roh Moo-Hyun’s administration to reduce the screen quota hopefully before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit talks in South Korea in November, which Bush and 20 other leaders from the region would attend.

"Immediate action would send an important signal of Korea’s commitment to open markets ahead of APEC," the paper said.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told the U.S. Congress this month that Washington was holding discussions with a number of nations, including South Korea, "to see whether a free trade agreement makes sense."

In talks with South Korea’s trade minister Kim Hyun-chong this week, Portman said "it is critical to have strong, broad, unambiguous support for a major undertaking like this," according to U.S. TR spokeswoman Neena Moorjani.

Portman also said, "If we’re going to be serious about seizing this opportunity, we will first need more progress in resolving key outstanding trade issues," Moorjani told reporters.

South Korea, Asia’s third-biggest economy, is the seventh-largest U.S. trade partner and already has an FTA with Chile and signed another with Singapore and the four-nation European Free Trade Association, comprising Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Seoul is currently in the process of seeking similar deals with Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

 source: Tehran Times