U.S.-South Korean Free-Trade Agreement Signed
USINFO Special Correspondent
Washington - The United States and South Korea signed a free-trade agreement (FTA) June 30 that aims to increase trade and investment flows between the two countries in economic sectors including agriculture, industrial and consumer products, automobiles and financial services.
The agreement also seeks to “further enhance the strong United States-Korea partnership, which has served as a force for stability and prosperity in Asia,” President Bush said in a statement praising the FTA that was issued by the White House the same day.
Bush urged Congress to ratify the agreement, a necessary step before the United States can implement its terms. The U.S.-Korean agreement is the last trade deal signed in time for lawmakers to consider it under the president’s trade promotion authority (TPA), also known as “fast-track” authority. The TPA requires Congress to approve or reject negotiated trade agreements without amendment and within strict time limits. The authority expires July 1.
The Bush administration has been negotiating with Congress to extend the TPA. (See related article.)
CONCERNS LINGER OVER KOREAN RESTRICTIONS ON U.S. BEEF, AUTOMOBILES
The United States and South Korea originally announced completion of negotiations on the trade agreement April 2. (See related article.)
Officials then revisited the terms to bring them into compliance with stricter labor and environmental standards established by the United States in May.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab expressed concern in mid-June that Congress might not approve the agreement unless South Korea reopens its market to all forms of U.S. beef. South Korea banned U.S. beef products after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, was found in cow shipped from Canada in a U.S. herd in 2003. Although South Korea promised in April to respect a report by the World Animal Health Organization confirming that U.S. beef is safe, the East Asian nation continues to restrict the types of beef it will accept from the United States.
In addition, some members of Congress have expressed concern that the FTA does not adequately open the Korean automobile market to U.S. imports. Schwab has maintained that the trade pact is “very strong” for U.S. automakers.
South Korea is the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner, and the world’s 10th-largest economy.
In a separate statement June 30, Bush also reaffirmed his commitment to developing an accelerated admission process for South Korea and countries in Central and Eastern Europe into the United States’ Visa Waiver Program.
The program allows travelers with an e-passport (containing biometric data) or a valid, machine-readable passport issued before October 26, 2006, to enter the United States without obtaining a visa. (See related article.)