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Rice could doom U.S.-Korea trade deal: source
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A proposed free-trade deal between the United States and South Korea would probably be doomed if Washington succeeds in putting rice on the negotiating table, according to a source familiar with the subject.

The United States has been pushing for parceling rice -- and other sensitive products like beef, onions and oranges -- into a free trade deal it is pursuing with South Korea, the world's 10th largest economy.

But Seoul "cannot show any flexibility" on including rice in the proposed KORUS trade deal, the source said this week.

Even if negotiators could hammer out an agreement including rice, as Washington wants, it's unlikely South Korea's parliament would approve such a deal, the source said.

Current U.S. rice imports may not pose a major threat to South Korea's overall production, but is an emotional issue for farmers there.

"The United States is well aware of Korean sensitivities in the agriculture sector. However, we have made it clear to the Korean government that our FTAs (free trade agreements) are comprehensive, meaning they cover all sectors, including agriculture," Gretchen Hamel, a spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said in an email on Friday.

"Obviously, rice will be a difficult issue with Korea," she said.

Trade with South Korea is already an annual $72 billion business, and if the United States can secure its biggest commercial pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement, it could get even bigger.

The next round of talks in the proposed KORUS deal will start on October 23 in South Korea, and more discussions are scheduled for December.

But after a disheartening round of talks in Seattle last month, U.S. trade officials have been somber on the deal, saying Korea must negotiate on more agricultural products

Other touchy areas in the talks include textiles, medicines and automobiles
MGR Archive 8.10.2006
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