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U.S. trade nominee says FTA isn’t fair

Blue House says it will wait for official Obama position
Mar 11,2009
Ron Kirk
Tensions are mounting between Korea and the United States over their free trade accord after the nominated U.S. trade representative said the deal was unfair, according to wire reports.

The Korean government was cautious in approaching the issue, stressing that the comments didn’t fully reflect the position of the Barack Obama administration. The ruling Grand National Party, however, vowed to push forward ratification of the pact.

During a hearing for his nomination Monday, Ron Kirk told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that the deal struck with Korea had to be changed.

“In the case of Korea, the current status quo simply isn’t acceptable,” the former Dallas mayor said during the hearing.

“The president has said, and I agree, the agreement as it is just simply isn’t fair and if we don’t get that right, we’ll be prepared to step away.”

The newly designated trade representative said he has no “deal fever” and that the U.S. government will not pursue deals just for the sake of doing so.

The U.S. trade representative nominee, however, did not clarify if he intended to renegotiate the agreement made in 2007.

The Blue House said its hope for an early ratification of the free trade deal remains unchanged.

However, it is considering trying to convince the U.S. that the free trade agreement reflects the interests of both countries.

The Blue House stressed that the comment made during the Senate hearing was not the official position of the U.S. government and said that the Korean government will appropriately respond when Kirk, as an official trade envoy of the Obama administration, presents his nation’s position.

The trade ministry backed the Blue House.

“Ron Kirk’s comment was made during his confirmation hearing so it is hard to equate it as the position of the U.S. government,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Hong Joon-pyo, floor leader of the ruling Grand National Party, said yesterday that regardless of the move in the U.S., the ruling party would push for the pact’s ratification.

The free trade pact is the largest for the U.S. since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

President Obama has often expressed concern over the auto trade between theU.S. and Korea. During his presidential campaign last year he called the free trade deal “badly flawed.”

Recent figures may not bode well for the FTA. Sales by U.S. automakers have plummeted to a 25-year low. In contrast, Korean automakers’ sales in the U.S. market are relatively solid. Sales by Hyundai Motor, Korea’s leading automobile manufacturer, gained 14 percent in January.

As of 2007, Korea shipped 700,000 vehicles to the U.S. while importing 5,000.

The Korean government has often stressed that there will be no renegotiation on the FTA.

Even after Obama won the U.S. presidential election, trade minister Kim Jong-hoon dismissed the possibility of renegotiating the agreement.

By Lee Ho-jeong, Cho Jae-eun Staff Reporters [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]