The chief U.S. negotiator in free trade talks with South Korea, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, said she was under orders to conclude an agreement by the end of 2006 good enough for lawmakers in Washington to accept.
Cutler was in Seoul for preliminary talks with her counterpart Kim Jong-hoon and other officials on a free trade pact that would be the biggest since NAFTA in 1993. The formal negotiations start on June 5 in Washington and are under a tight deadline of June 2007 for submission to Congress. South Korea in the seventh-largest trading partner with the U.S., while the U.S. is the second-biggest destination for South Korean exports after China, according to both governments.
Strong resistance has been put forth by Korean farmers who have protested violently against any reduction of protections for agriculture, especially for rice. The U.S. wants more access for its automobiles, pharmaceuticals, steel and textiles in the country.
The negotiations are important since a free trade agreement with Singapore, the high U.S. profile in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group and a new trade policy forum with India underscore the U.S. government’s commitment to Asia.