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U.S., South Korea discussing trade, but not autos


U.S., South Korea discussing trade, but not autos

28 October 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea began two days of trade talks on Tuesday, but plan to steer clear of auto industry provisions blocking Washington’s approval of a bilateral free trade agreement, a U.S. official said.

"The purpose of the meetings is not to discuss FTA issues," Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said in an e-mail.

A South Korean embassy official also said autos were not on the agenda for the talks.

"No, no, no. Not at all," the official said.

Powerful U.S. Democrats — including the party’s presidential candidate Barack Obama — say the April 2007 trade pact favors South Korean automakers too much and have urged President George W. Bush to renegotiate it.

The U.S.-South Korea meeting comes as crushing financial problems have prompted General Motors Corp and Cerberus Capital Management to ask the Bush administration for around $10 billion to support a merger between GM and Chrysler LLC, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

GM has been neutral on the South Korean agreement, while Ford Motor Co, Chrysler and the United Auto Workers union have strongly opposed the deal.

The Bush administration and the South Korean government have refused repeatedly to reopen the auto trade provisions.

Bush wants Congress to approve the pact as it currently stands when lawmakers return after the November 4 elections.

The South Korean government began a push earlier this month for that country’s parliament to ratify the pact to put pressure on the U.S. Congress to follow suit.

Spicer said the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday would focus on issues that have emerged since the free trade agreement was concluded.

"Examples of issues being discussed include application of labeling requirements for fruits and vegetables and standards for laptop computers," he said.

Ahn Chong-gee, director general of the bilateral trade bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is leading the Korea delegation.

Bryant Trick, deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Korea, is leading the U.S. delegation rather than his immediate superior Wendy Cutler who negotiated the free trade pact for the United States.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)