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(LEAD) Cheong Wa Dae rules out renegotiation of FTA with U.S.

All Headlines 11:44 November 20, 2009

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 5 paras)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae again ruled out the possibility of any changes to the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA), saying Friday the country will raise its own concerns should the U.S. demand a renegotiation of the deal signed over two years ago.

"If we do ever have to discuss the issue in the auto industry with the U.S., we will make sure there are discussions about the agricultural sector where we have our own complaints," a Cheong Wa Dae official said, asking not to be identified.

The remarks came one day after President Lee Myung-bak in a joint press conference with visiting U.S. President Barack Obama said Seoul was willing to "talk" with the U.S. about the latter's concerns on potential damage to the American auto industry from the enactment of the FTA.

Seoul's trade minister Kim Jong-hoon on Thursday said the president's remarks only meant the country was willing to discuss the issue.

"It just means if they say there are problems, we are willing to listen," Kim told reporters.

"But I believe most of the problems they (the U.S.) prepare and bring to us, if they do, will be those that can be addressed by simple explanations," Kim said.

The president's remarks, however, started speculation that Seoul has offered to renegotiate the trade deal.

"It is a mistake for the government to suggest a stance that it may accept a call for renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. FTA. The party will never accept a renegotiation," the chief of the main opposition Democratic Party, Rep. Chung Sye-kyun, said Friday.

The U.S., especially its Congress, has frequently talked about reopening the FTA since it was signed in June 2007, citing feared damage to the country's automobile industry. But Seoul has repeatedly dismissed the possibility, noting it, too, had to accept potential negative repercussions to its own economy, especially in the agricultural sector.

"If we rewrite the document, that is a renegotiation. It is the government's policy that we will not change the agreement," the Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Lee Hye-min, Seoul's deputy minister for trade, also echoed such sentiment saying any change to auto trade under the accord may undermine the balance of interests for both countries.

The ratification of the free trade accord by both countries' legislatures has been stymied by disagreements on auto and beef trade.

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 state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).

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

Since the two reached their trade deal, South Korea has struck other trade deals with the European Union and India.


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