South Korean foreign minister rules out renegotiating US trade deal

By Kelly Olsen, AP
Friday, November 20, 2009

SKorean minister nixes new US trade negotiations

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s foreign minister ruled out Friday additional negotiations with the United States over a free trade agreement, a day after presidents of the two countries vowed cooperation to push the stalled deal forward.

The ambitious accord, signed more than two years ago, has languished in political limbo as U.S. officials say it does not adequately address a wide gap in auto trade between the two countries that favors South Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday at a press conference with President Barack Obama that his government was willing to discuss the auto issue with Washington.

“If we have an auto problem with the U.S., we should have an opportunity to talk again and understand each other,” Lee said. It was unclear if that included a willingness to renegotiate.

But Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, speaking in parliament Friday, said that Lee’s comments did not mean “renegotiation or additional negotiations.”

South Korean officials have consistently ruled out a formal reopening of the deal that was signed in June 2007, well before Lee and Obama were elected. The agreement requires ratification by legislatures in both countries to take effect.

Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, earlier this month criticized South Korea’s auto market as not being fully open to U.S. manufacturers and said his office was conducting a review of the deal.

Obama said Thursday in Seoul that he was committed to the agreement and officials from both countries were trying to resolve problems.

Two-way trade between South Korea and the U.S. came to $84.8 billion in 2008, making Washington South Korea’s fourth-biggest trading partner after China, the European Union and Japan.

Figures compiled by auto industry groups in South Korea show the country exported nearly 600,000 vehicles to the U.S. last year, while South Koreans purchased almost 7,000 vehicles made by American manufacturers.

South Korea has been aggressively pursuing free-trade agreements as part of a strategy to boost its economy and increase export opportunities.

In effect are agreements with Chile, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the European Free Trade Association, which comprises Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

In addition to the deal with the U.S., South Korea has also concluded negotiations with the European Union. And Seoul is negotiating free trade deals with 11 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Peru, Australia and New Zealand.


Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.

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