South Korea, US resume tough free trade talks

Seoul, January 15:

The United States and South Korea launched a fresh round of free trade talks today amid tight security as local farmers and anti-globalzation activists vowed to go ahead with banned protests.

Scuffles erupted when police stopped about 100 farmers and activists from approaching the venue, a hotel in eastern Seoul, which have been guarded by thousands of riot police.

Police said more than 40,000 security personnel have been mobilized to control possible demonstrations against the five-day meeting on forming a free-trade agreement (FTA). “Stop FTA negotiations that will ruin our livelihood,” the protestors shouted.

Major disagreements over US anti-dumping and countervailing rules, and non-tariff barriers in South Korea’s auto and drug markets, were left off agenda as both sides tried to agree on less important issues first.

Those key topics will be discussed at informal meetings between US assistant trade representative Wendy Cutler and her South Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-Hoon, Cutler said. “The US is prepared to make progress in all of these three issues at the chief negotiator level,” she said, insisting the FTA especially requires a ‘satisfactory’ resolution on automobiles and pharmaceuticals.

South Korean officials remained cautious about conclusion of the deal but Cutler said progress made so far made her optimistic.

“Our challenges are real but they are not insurmountable. The US remains committed to achieving a high-quality, comprehensive and balanced agreement,” she said.