Slow Going In Trade Talks With S. Korea Disappoints U.S.

Original Publication Date: 
10 September, 2006

U.S. trade officials were disappointed at the lack of progress last week in the third round of negotiations toward a U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler told reporters in a conference call today. The negotiations, held in Seattle, were to be the first opportunity for U.S. and South Korean officials to agree to reduce tariffs in specified products, after the two countries in August exchanged initial tariff offers in agricultural and industrial goods and in the textile and apparel sector. "We had hoped for more give and take and improvements to offers to be made in Seattle," said Cutler, who added the United States is hoping South Korea will submit improved tariff offers prior to the next negotiating round, slated for Oct. 23 in South Korea.

Cutler said despite the lack of progress, it is still possible for negotiators to meet their goal of concluding an agreement by the end of the year. That goal is aimed at giving enough time for congressional approval of a final agreement before presidential trade negotiating authority expires in June 2007.

"If we had made more progress this week, it would have been better. We remain determined to press ahead and seek a good agreement, high-quality balanced agreement on schedule," she said.

Cutler said the bilateral trade negotiations will be on the agenda for President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun when the two meet Thursday in Washington. South Korean Trade Minister Hyun-chong Kim also is in town this week for meetings. Cutler said U.S. negotiators improved on initial tariff offers by submitting revised offers in the textile and apparel area and on industrial tariffs during talks last week.

But Korea did not respond with improved offers of its own, she said. U.S. and Korean differences loom largest in the areas of agriculture market access and pharmaceuticals. But Cutler said the Seattle talks did produce some progress in the area of environment, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, services and labor.