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Washington Outlook Archive

United States And South Korea Studying Trade Pact

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The United States and South Korea appear to be close to starting negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) that could be one of the largest with a single country — second only to the three-nations in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Two-way trade between the United States and South Korea amounts to more than $70 billion, making South Korea the United States’ seventh largest trading partner. The United States currently imports $1.7 billion in textiles and apparel and exports $1.5 billion worth fo goods.

While the Bush administration has negotiated 13 free trade agreements and has at least another half a dozen in various stages of negotiation, most of them involve small countries. An FTA with South Korea would be a major development for US international trade.

In a recent meeting with reporters, US Trade Representative Rob Portman cited South Korea as an example of how trade can be a significant factor in helping a country become a booming economy. Portman said: “After the Korean War, the North Korean economy was stronger than South Korea. In the interim, North Korea has closed down to trade, taken a self-sufficiency point of view as South Korea has done just the opposite, They’ve opened up to trade. The beneficiaries have been the citizens of the Republic of Korea. It’s an amazing story to go from a truly poor developing country to a country which is now one of the stronger economies in the world.”

A South Korean FTA could be in for some rough sledding. South Korean farmers do not like the idea, and the latest US FTA — the Central American Free Trade Agreement —barely squeaked through Congress.

January 31, 2006