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Korea, U.S. begin formal talks to revise free trade pact

Jan 08,2018
Trade officials from Korea and the United States met in Washington on Friday to discuss amendments to the two countries’ free trade agreement. Both sides signaled a rough path ahead and promised follow-up meetings in the near future - as early as a few weeks from now - in Seoul.

“We have much work to do to reach an agreement that serves the economic interests of the American people,” Robert Lighthizer, the United States’ trade representative, said after a daylong session at his office in Washington. “Our goals are clear: we must achieve fair and reciprocal trade between our two nations.”

Yoo Myung-hee, director of free trade negotiations at Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, agreed that there was “much work to do” and during a press briefing noted that the United States raised the issue of automobiles. She indicated that negotiations would “not be easy.”

During the discussion to revise the six-year-old agreement, U.S. officials came up with proposals to “move towards fair and reciprocal trade in key industrial goods sectors, such as autos and auto parts,” the trade representative said, “as well as to resolve additional cross-cutting and sector-specific barriers impacting U.S. exports.”

Korea’s Trade Ministry said in a statement that it “proactively” defended the country’s stance and proposed amendments to regulations concerning investor-state dispute settlement and trade remedies.

The former refers to an instrument of international law that allows investors to sue countries for discriminatory practices, and the latter includes trade policy tools that let governments take remedial action, including lawsuits, against imports that cause material damage to a domestic industry.

The renegotiations come as the United States is gearing up to impose severe tariffs on washing machines from Korean manufacturers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics after Whirlpool filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission. The American company wants Korean producers to stop selling cheaper washers in the United States.

The free trade agreement was signed by President George W. Bush and took effect in 2012. But Donald Trump has not been a fan of the deal, calling it “job killing” and “horrible” while citing that the United States’ trade deficit with Korea has doubled since 2012. He is seeking changes through a fast-track option that does not require approval from Congress.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]