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US asks for FTA renegotiations in seven areas

Chosun Ilbo, Seoul

U.S. Asks for FTA Renegotiations in Seven Areas

18 June 2007

The U.S. has officially requested additional negotiations on an already concluded free trade agreement with Korea. It wants to renegotiate seven sectors — labor, environment, essential security, pharmaceuticals, government procurement, harbor safety and investment. But critical issues that could hurt the balance of negotiations like cars and the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex are not on the agenda, the government believes.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Sunday said the U.S. Trade Representative asked for more negotiations in the seven sectors through the U.S. Embassy in Korea on Saturday. American negotiators led by chief trade delegate Wendy Cutler will be in Seoul Thursday and Friday to explain the U.S. demand.

Washington is expected to propose not only fines but also retaliatory trade measures if one or the other side violates labor and environment-related agreements. The U.S. wants to make it obligatory for the two countries to adhere to international conventions on labor and the environment, reflecting a new democrat-led trade policy. Under the proposal, the two countries can take exceptional trade measures without taking into account trade treaties with a third country when security needs arise. They will also be allowed to override intellectual property of pharmaceuticals in emergencies like the epidemics of a contagious disease.

The government will decide whether to accept the renegotiation after examining the U.S. proposal. A Trade Ministry official said Korea needs to clarify the meaning of terms in the U.S. offer and scrutinize whether the balance of negotiations can be preserved, since the U.S. proposal is ambiguous in many points. Democrats have called on the Bush administration to incorporate the new trade policies since they gained control of Congress, which must ratify any FTA, late last year. The U.S. also asked for fresh trade negotiations with Peru, Panama and Columbia.

A government official here said if Korea refuses, it would risk increasing criticism of the FTA among Democrats in Congress.