USTR Says FTA With South Korea Not Subject To Re-Negotiations

Ellinghuysen & Yahoo NewsWashington – The top U.S. trade negotiator said Wednesday that the free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea would not be re-negotiated, but that Seoul does need to resolve the beef issue in order to gain congressional approval.

“We do not intend to re-negotiate,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said at a press roundtable ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Sydney next month.

“It`s a good free trade agreement for both South Korea and the United States as is.”

Seoul and Washington signed the FTA in June and await legislative ratification. The deal is expected to increase bilateral trade by up to US$29 billion and spill over to the political domain by strengthening an alliance dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The new Democrat-controlled Congress, however, has been demanding policy changes affecting FTAs as well as criticizing the deal with South Korea, seen as failing to guarantee a fair auto market opening in the Asian nation.

Although not an FTA agenda, Seoul`s restriction in importing U.S. beef is also cited as an impediment to congressional approval.

South Korea last year partially lifted the ban imposed in late 2003 following a mad cow disease scare, allowing in boneless products. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in May ruled that American meat is safe for export, and the U.S. has been pressing Seoul to adhere to the organization`s finding and reopen the market in full.

Determining the safety of the food needs to be based on science, Schwab said.

“And if countries adopt import standards that go beyond internationally agreed scientific basis, that can be an excuse, that can be used as an excuse for import protection,” she said.

“This is an international standard, the OIE, and it`s time for Korea and Japan and China to recognize that American beef is fully safe, all products, all cuts of beef, all ages,” said Schwab.

President George W. Bush is very focused on trade, constantly asking about the status of the Doha negotiations and the FTAs, the USTR said.

“It is a high-priority, integral part of what this administration does,” she said.

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