Korea-U.S. FTA Talks Flounder on Beef Demands

      November 11, 2010 11:27

      Washington demanded a wider opening of the Korean beef market in a third day of additional FTA talks on Wednesday. Seoul declined even if that means the FTA talks break down.

      Korean trade officials said Seoul's chief trade negotiator Kim Jong-hoon and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk resumed talks Wednesday but were unable to hammer out an agreement.

      Kirk claimed the U.S. Senate can ratify the FTA only if there is further market opening for American beef and called for the issue to be dealt as part of the official agenda. But Korea's position is that import of beef from cattle older than 30 months and easing quarantine regulations are a health and safety issue and as such off the table.

      The two apparently ended the talks despite efforts to bring them together again around midnight. They earlier seemed close to a breakthrough after Korea accepted most of the U.S. demands in the automotive sector.

      U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk (center) with his staff members arrive to meet his South Korean counterpart Kim Jong-hoon at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday.

      President Lee Myung-bak and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama meet on Thursday afternoon just before the G20 Summit opens. This has led to hopes that the FTA talks would reach a dramatic conclusion before the summit. But if the U.S. does not back down from its beef demands, the talks could break down.

      Lee reportedly told his chief negotiator if the U.S. touches the beef issue, the FTA will have to be jettisoned. Korean trade officials say U.S. negotiators kept demanding during four days of working-level talks that began last Thursday that the beef issue must be included in the agenda, but the Korean side said there will be no further talks if beef is on the agenda. U.S. officials pressured Korean trade negotiators by piling beef-related documents on the dialogue table.

      Korea has already accepted U.S. demands to ease environmental regulations on cars, and the U.S. apparently made concessions by letting Seoul maintain tariffs on certain American agricultural imports that could impact Korean farmers. Also, the U.S. apparently agreed to begin allotting 15,000 professional visas to Koreans as agreed when the FTA was signed back in 2007. It has not acted on the promise so far.

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