South Korea ready for FTA renegotiation with United States

By Jennie Oh  |  Dec. 18, 2017 at 3:54 AM
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SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- South Korea will soon be ready to renegotiate its bilateral free trade deal with Washington, having completed its review of hearings and legal procedures to initiate the talks.

The country's trade ministry on Monday submitted a plan to the National Assembly, outlining the goals of the talks, major trade issues and how it plans to address various demands that Washington is likely to propose, Chosun Ilbo reported.

Over the past year, U.S. President Donald Trump has branded the five-year-old treaty, a "horrible deal" and a "job killer," repeatedly pointing the finger at South Korea's trade surplus with the U.S., which amounted to roughly $27 billion in 2016.

As a means of narrowing the trade imbalance, Seoul expects Washington to call for revisions to abolish duties and lower non-tariff barriers on U.S. products, according to the trade ministry report. The U.S. is also likely to seek better terms for its auto and steel makers, in a bid to protect homegrown companies and to crack down on cheap Chinese steel that end up in the U.S. market via South Korea.

The trade ministry says it will seek a "reciprocal deal," voicing its own requests to Washington. Seoul will mainly aim to protect the country's agricultural sector, as local farmers have strongly opposed additional opening of the market to relatively cheap foreign imports.

The ministry plans to begin negotiations later this month or early next year.

If the U.S. requests an overhaul of the treaty, then its state department will have to notify Congress at least 90 days before initiating the talks. It will also have to hold public hearings and announce specific negotiating objectives thirty days before the talks begin.

If Washington opts for a partial revision to the FTA, negotiations can begin right away under the U.S. president's executive authority.

Last year, trade of goods and services between the two countries amounted to $144.6 billion.

According to 2016 figures from the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. shipments of manufactured goods to South Korea was up 8.4 percent in 2015, compared to 2011, the year before the FTA took effect. That's double the average pace of growth the U.S. saw in its exports to other countries over the same period.

Also, with the U.S. economy being largely service-oriented, as opposed to Korea's comparative advantage in manufactured goods, its service surplus with Korea recorded some $10.7 billion last year, marking an on year jump of 30 percent.

In terms of jobs, the figures show America benefited from the creation of 2.6 million jobs in the private sector by 2015, roughly four years into the agreement.

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