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South Korea to defend farm market in US trade talks
Reuters, May 2, 2006
South Korea is ready to take a tough line with the United States on agricultural products when the two economic powers start talks next month on a bilateral free trade pact, a senior Seoul official said on Tuesday.

Official talks on a South Korean-U.S. free trade agreement will begin June 5. Washington has insisted that Seoul must open its long-protected rice market under any deal.

"I will take a very defensive stance as far as agricultural products are concerned," South Korea's chief negotiator for the deal, Kim Jong-hoon, told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in South Korea. "The most sensitive area as far as Korea is concerned is agriculture," he said.

Kim said he was looking for a deal that would be a "win-win" between partners with more than $70 billion in annual trade.

The United States is South Korea's second-largest trading partner while Seoul is Washington's seventh largest.

The rice issue has proven especially sticky for the two, with South Korean farmers holding a number of violent protests over the past several months against any further opening of the country's rice market.

South Korea has been having trouble meeting the requirements of a separate deal reached in 2004 with the United States and eight other rice-exporting countries.

The deal calls for South Korea to allow for the first direct sale of foreign rice to its consumers; but almost all recently imported U.S. rice to South Korea has not been sold at auction.

None of the U.S. rice has ended up on store shelves.

The chief U.S. negotiator for the free trade deal said in March Washington wants to conclude negotiations with Seoul by the end of this year for what would be the biggest U.S. trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994.

U.S. negotiators are pushing for speedy talks in order to strike a deal before White House authority runs out in July of next year to negotiate a trade pact that cannot be amended by Congress.

Kim said he thought it was possible for an agreement to be reached by the end of March 2007. He had previously said that Seoul had not set a deadline for the talks to be wrapped up.
MGR Archive 3.5.2006
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