Yonhap News – South Korea / via Ellinghuysen.com
July 28, 2009

Seoul (Yonhap) — The United States will focus on working to ratify the pending free trade accord with South Korea later this year, Seoul’s top trade official said Tuesday, labeling the U.S. Congress’s approval of the pact as a "matter of time."

The accord, known as the KORUS FTA, was signed in June 2007, but its ratification in both countries has been stymied by disagreements on auto and beef trade.

"It (the U.S.’s ratification of the free trade deal) is not a matter of yes or no. I would say it is just a matter of time," South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon said at a forum.

Kim said U.S. President Barack Obama is concentrating on issues such as climate change and medical reforms. "After resolving those issues, the U.S. administration will get down to the ratification of the KORUS FTA," he said.

Washington has been hinting at a possible renegotiation, while Seoul has reiterated that it will not revise the text of the deal itself, though some U.S. officials are reportedly hoping to address the concerns via side agreements.

South Korea’s National Assembly has been delaying deliberations on the free trade deal, citing growing pessimism over the agreement in the U.S. Congress. But Seoul’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and trade recently approved the pact.

U.S. President Barack Obama has opposed ratification of what he described as a "badly flawed" free trade agreement with South Korea, citing in particular an imbalance in auto trade.

But at their first and second summits in April and June, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Obama agreed that the free trade accord could bring benefits to both countries and committed to working together to chart a way forward.

The accord, if it takes effect, will boost South Korea’s economic growth by 6 percent over the long-term and help create 340,000 new jobs, according to the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

The U.S., the world’s largest economy and South Korea’s second-largest trading partner, conducted US$84.7 billion in two way trade last year.

yonhapnews.co.kr