The Obama administration will focus on auto and beef discussions in the upcoming negotiations with South Korea, sidelining other issues for early ratification of the pending free trade deal with the country, a top trade official said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday at an event sponsored by Third Way, a Washington think tank, Deputy U.
Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said, "The key focus has been beef and autos, and those are the issues we are focusing on," according to World Trade Online, an online magazine specializing in trade issues.
"Other concerns that people have with respect to our relationship with Korea" can be addressed via "bilateral consultation mechanisms with the Koreans that we consistently use to address issues as they come up," Marantis was quoted as saying.
The Korea free trade agreement (FTA), signed by the Bush administration in 2007, has been on hold, with Obama citing lopsided auto trade and restricted shipments of beef.
Obama said last month that he instructed U.
Trade Representative Ron Kirk to resume talks with South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon to address those issues until November when he visits Seoul for a G-20 economic summit.
He said he could then present the deal to Congress "in the few months that follow that.
" Marantis said the U.
will be able to present proposals to Korea "at some point in the near future, with the hope of meeting the president's challenge of concluding this by the G-20 in November.
" He added that he hopes his office will conclude talks with Congress and other stakeholders to come up with the proposals in time.
Kim Jong-hoon said early this week that Seoul and Washington officials will begin discussions in late September, citing a "lack of preparedness on the part of the U.
" "I don't expect negotiations will take three to four months," he said.
"We will be able to conclude them through intensive negotiations from late September.
" Kim met with Kirk here in May, but the chief U.
trade negotiator was unready to suggest ways to address the concerns over beef and autos.
The chief South Korean trade negotiator said last month he is not sure if Washington will ask for shipments of U.
beef from cattle over 30 months old, saying that does not guarantee a rise in U.
beef shipments due to increased concerns over safety.
He said at that time Seoul is ready to address any problems to be raised by the U.
on non-tariff barriers or unfair trade practices, but added, "It is a wrong approach if the U.
calls for a balance in the trade of certain products while ignoring the reality where the markets have different sizes and trade volumes.
officials have said they prefer a side agreement rather than revising the text of the FTA.
South Korean ambassador Han Duck-soo said Wednesday his government will seek "creative and mutually acceptable" solutions.
"We've discussed those issues with relevant parties and industries in a serious and coherent manner, so we will soon be able to know what to discuss," he said.
Independent studies show the implementation of the FTA with South Korea, the seventh-largest trading partner for the U.
, will create 240,000 jobs and increase annual two-way trade by more than US$20 billion, up from $83 billion.
goods trade deficit with South Korea was US$10.
6 billion in 2009, down $2.
8 billion from 2008, according to USTR figures.