No timeline to ratify free trade deal: Cutler
While the U.S. pact goes unconfirmed, Korea is moving forward on a treaty with the EU.
WASHINGTON - The United States does not have any timeline for the ratification of a free trade deal with Korea, a senior U.S. trade official said yesterday.
Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Japan, Korea and APEC Affairs Wendy Cutler was speaking in a forum at the Korea Economic Institute. Her remarks came in response to Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, who said Tuesday that he expected the Korea-U.S. FTA to pass both legislatures early next year.
“We hope that’s true,” Cutler said. “All our efforts are really to understand concerns and figure out how the concerns can be [quickly] addressed. There is no timeline assigned to this, but I can assure you that we are working intensively.”
Cutler did not elaborate, but U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed concerns about an imbalance in auto trade and restricted shipments of U.S. beef.
While meeting with Korean President Lee Myung-bak in June, Obama agreed to make efforts to “chart a way forward,” and said he will seek the appropriate “political timing” for submission of the KORUS FTA to Congress “once we have resolved some of the substantive issues.”
Cutler also said that the USTR was going over comments filed by the public on the FTA.
“We now have a record number of comments - over 300,” she said. “All of them are public and available on the government Web site. We are now going through them.”
The USTR filed the request for the comments in late July to assess the viability of the pending free trade deal with South Korea amid growing protectionism in the Democratic Congress and the worst recession in decades.
Another key element of the USTR’s reviewing of the Korea FTA is the Korea-European FTA, “which I understand will be initialed next month,” she said. “So a careful scrutiny of that agreement will be important for us.”
Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tami Overby said at the KEI forum that the Korea FTA “should be ratified immediately” to “help solidify U.S. interests in the region.” Overby feared the U.S. has been losing ground in Asia.
“The region is not waiting to engage other countries. Korea in particular is very actively moving toward concluding FTAs and creating more opportunities for their citizens,” she said. “The U.S. has a critical opportunity to ratify the KORUS FTA. But while we are waiting, Korea has already concluded an EU FTA and [plans to initial] it early in the new year and possibly enforce it next summer.
“American companies in Korea .?.?. are going to be disadvantaged.”
Korean and U.S. lawmakers have not yet ratified the trade deal, signed in 2007. It is the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1992. Since 2001, the U.S. has entered into free trade agreements with 14 countries.
Officials in both Korea and the U.S. have said they favor side agreements to address thorny issues, rather than revising the text of the deal itself.
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens said early this month that she could not “predict a timeframe” for the FTA’s ratification, but expressed hope the two sides will “come up with a way forward.”