Talks on sharing costs for USFK start in March

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Talks on sharing costs for USFK start in March

South Korea and the United States are expected to begin talks on sharing costs for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) early next month, a Foreign Ministry official said Friday.

South Korea has shared USFK upkeep costs since 1991 under the so-called Special Measures Agreement (SMA). The current accord signed in 2014 is set to expire this year.

“We are planning to launch the first meeting around March 5,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “Honolulu will likely to be the venue for the gathering.”

South Korea’s contribution has increased to around 960 billion won ($887.5 million) this year from some 150 billion won in 1991.

This year’s negotiation will likely get tougher for South Korea as the United States has asked for Seoul to shoulder more. Some speculate the United States will demand Korea more than double the payment.

“Many expect the U.S. to demand more and so do I,” he said. “We still don’t have anything to back up any such numbers.”

The Foreign Ministry launched a task force in November for the upcoming negotiation. It has said that it should not be called a negotiation but rather a “consultation” through which the allies should find common ground beneficial to all.

“In line with the agreement and its main spirit, we will enter this consultation in a way that will create stable conditions for U.S. troops and contribute to improving our combined defense capability,” the official said. “We will work hard to draw a conclusion that could be mutually beneficial.”

The money is mostly used to pay costs related to employing Korean nationals for U.S. troops and building military facilities, including barracks. Of the total, 88 percent is based on non-cash goods and services.

The official said most of the money granted under the SMA is channeled back into “our domestic economy” as it is paid to Korean workers in salaries and to Korean builders.

With regard to the criticism that the United States has a huge amount of unused money under the cost-sharing agreement, he said the amount continues to shrink and that the government will also consider necessary measures to deal with the issue.

“It was said that the unused money has exceeded 1 trillion won, but as far as I know, it has dropped to some 300 billion won,” he said.

The official said the government will “faithfully” report everything related to the negotiation to the National Assembly.

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