Final round FTA talks between South Korea, US make progress

Seoul, March 11:

South Korean and US trade negotiators worked Sunday to hammer out a landmark free trade agreement with just one more day left in what is expected to be their final round of talks.

Brushing off protests against their eighth round of negotiations that began Thursday and are scheduled to end Monday, the two sides need to put a deal on the table by the end of March to take advantage of US President George W. Bush’s expiring special trade promotion powers.

“We’re making very good progress this week,” Assistant USTrade Representative Wendy Cutler said, according to a transcript of an interview Saturday with South Korean television broadcasters.

“Momentum is building.” Asked to rate progress on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, Cutler said: “We’re getting close to ten.” Cutler, Washington’s chief negotiator in

the talks, said on the round’s opening day that it would be the last, though added that

additional work in some areas might be needed through the end of the month.

Seven previous rounds since the negotiations began in June had yielded no breakthroughs as the two sides failed to bridge gaps in key sectors such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

If successful, the free trade deal would the first for the US in Northeast Asia, home to three of the world’s top 10 economies. It would also be the biggest such accord for Washington since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

South Korea, the world’s 10th-largest economy, and the US had $72 billion (euro55 billion) in trade in 2005. South Korea is the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner.