Korea needs to sign a three-way free trade deal with Japan and China in a bid to boost prosperity in Asia and better prepare for external shocks, a senior finance ministry official said Thursday.
“Economic integration should be pursued to help the East Asian countries flexibly deal with global uncertainties and realize their co-prosperity in this region,” Vice Finance Minister Yim Jong-yong told an international conference. “The first step toward the integration should be the discussion on an FTA among Korea, Japan and China.”
He said that East Asian countries currently account for 21 percent of the global trade volume, marking the third largest business block following the United States and the European Union.
Trade among Korea, Japan and China, however, remains relatively small, he noted, calling for more cooperation among the three nations not just to boost trade but also to better cope with a worldwide economic crisis.
The government has pushed for similar deals separately with China and Japan over the past years, but its efforts have been hampered by opposition from local industries and different negotiation positions. They remain in the preliminary phase for free trade deals.
Korea has free trade agreements with Chile, Singapore and the European Free Trade Association, as well as similar pacts with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and India.
Seoul and Washington signed a free trade accord in 2007, but it has yet to be ratified in either the U.S. or Korean legislatures. It is also set to implement a free trade agreement with the European Union in the near future.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the Obama administration will soon present the pending free trade deal with Korea to Congress for ratification.
“I hope that that agreement will be submitted soon and acted on soon by the Congress,” Clinton told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I think it is very much in America’s strategic and economic interests.”
Clinton did not elaborate on the timeline, but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month that the Obama administration will present the revised Korea FTA to lawmakers within weeks with the hope that Congress approves it “this spring” so as not to lag behind the European Union, which ratified a similar deal with Seoul set to take effect in July.
Speaking to a forum in Washington earlier in the day, Kirk said his office was still “moving through the process of submitting to Congress.”
“We are operating on the Trade Promotion Authority, which is very prescriptive,” he said. “We are following on that process. We are optimistic.”
Seoul and Washington last month exchanged a supplemental agreement reached in December to address U.S. concerns over lopsided auto trade, the biggest hurdle to getting congressional approval of the Korea FTA since it was signed in 2007 under the Bush administration.
The revised deal calls for a delayed phaseout of auto tariffs, among other things, in return for Washington’s concessions on pork and medicine.
The Korean National Assembly is waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the Korea FTA first to facilitate its ratification in Korea, where the liberal major opposition party is set to oppose the deal.
A group of 65 new Republican House members, meanwhile, sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama to support congressional approval of the pending free trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama.
“We stand ready to work with you to ensure that new opportunities are created for our farmers, manufacturers, service providers and workers by passing the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea within the next six months,” they said in the letter.
Among the signatories are Reps. Rick Berg (R-ND) and Diane Black (R-TN), members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which will first deliberate the FTAs.
“Our three pending agreements have languished, while our partners have aggressively pursued negotiations that exclude the United States and put American workers at a competitive disadvantage,” they said. “The time has come to put rhetoric into action.”
Some congressional Republicans want to consider the Korea FTA concurrently with similar deals with Colombia and Panama, but Kirk has dismissed that as “a huge mistake.”
(From news reports)