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Talks to partially revise FTA will start in U.S.

Dec 29,2017
Korea will start negotiations with the United States to change the countries’ free trade agreement (FTA) in Washington next Friday, high-stakes talks triggered by President Donald Trump’s America First agenda.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy issued a statement Thursday saying the two sides will meet for their first discussions in the U.S. capital on Jan. 5. The Korea delegation will be led by Yoo Myung-hee, director-general of the ministry’s trade policy bureau, while the Washington team will be headed by Assistant Trade Representative Michael Beeman.

“We will take part in the Jan. 5 negotiation with an objective of achieving a balance of interests on the basis of reciprocity,” said the ministry in the statement.

An official from the Trade Ministry involved in the talks told the Korea JoongAng Daily Thursday that it “appeared the U.S. opted for a partial revision” of the five-year-old trade pact rather than a complete renegotiation since it didn’t take domestic procedures needed for a complete renegotiation of FTA. To renegotiate the FTA completely, the Trump administration is required to notify Congress of its intention at least 90 days before the formal opening of talks. It is also required to disclose what it intends to achieve from the renegotiation. The White House did neither.

News about the highly anticipated meeting schedule came 10 days after the trade ministry submitted its plan for revisions to the trade pact to the National Assembly on Dec. 18.

In his presidential campaign, Trump claimed the Korea-U.S. FTA had been unfair to American workers and vowed to reduce trade deficits with Seoul that have grown since the pact took effect in March 2012.

One of the expected demands from the U.S. is fewer non-tariff barriers to U.S. automobile exports to Korea. Korea’s automobile sector has benefited from the bilateral agreement in terms of exporting cars to the U.S.

While tariffs on American automobiles have been withdrawn, Seoul imposed a non-tariff barrier on U.S. vehicles with high CO2 emission levels. Washington argues that Korea is applying an overly rigorous emission standard as a way of keeping American cars off Korean roads.

According to the trade Ministry, Trump mulled pulling the U.S. out of the Korus FTA completely last September but was dissuaded from doing so by industries that have benefited from the deal.

For the first 11 months of this year, Korea’s trade surplus with the United States stood at $17 billion, down 21.6 percent from $21.69 billion in the same period last year, according to Korea’s Trade Ministry.

Last year, Korea saw its trade surplus with the United States more than double to $23.25 billion in from $11.64 billion in 2011, the year before the free trade agreement went into force.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]