FTA with US South Korea’s top priority

Seoul, February 26:

South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun said today that reaching a free trade deal with the United States will be the top priority for his government during his remaining tenure.

Roh, who stands down in 2008, called the free trade negotiations — along with his campaign to ease economic inequalities — the major tasks he should tackle.

“It will be a turning point. I hope the challenge will be successful,” Roh told reporters in reference to the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. “I think it will be the biggest issue during the rest of my tenure.” His comments, made in Seoul to mark his third anniversary in office, followed an announcement earlier this month by Seoul and Washington that they would launch talks aimed at reaching a FTA.

Formal talks will start in May and South Korea and US officials hope to end the negotiations by March. If agreed, the pact would be the largest US free trade pact in Asia. South Korea is the third largest economy in the region behind China and Japan, with whom the US has no such deal.

“We have to choose between protectionism and openness,” Roh said, “We must succeed through competition in an open environment. We have no other choice but to challenge the service industry of developed countries.” South Korea cleared the way for talks last month by halving its protectionist quota for homegrown movies, a precondition set by the US. It also agreed to reopen its market to US beef, banned due to a mad cow scare.