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U.S. ‘mindful’ of progress in S. Korea-EU FTA: envoy

The United States is “mindful” of progress South Korea and the European Union have achieved in ratifying their free trade agreement, the top American envoy here said Wednesday, as Seoul and Washington make their last push to bring their own deal to life.

“Yes, we are very mindful that our friends in Europe also have a free trade agreement,” U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens said during her second publicity event this week showcasing a GM-made electric hybrid vehicle jointly produced with LG Chem.

“We don’t want to be too far behind,” she said, expressing hope that the free trade agreement signed between her country and South Korea in 2007 can be ratified “as soon as possible.”

The Korea-U.S. trade deal, mired in political disputes over economic implications on both economies, has yet to be ratified by either parliament. In contrast, the EU has ratified its own deal with South Korea and is waiting for approval by the National Assembly, challenging the U.S. as two of the world’s largest economies try to be the first to gain a free trade foothold in the world’s 13th biggest economy.

“We obviously wish them well, we don’t see this as in conflict,” Stephens said, referring to the EU. She added that free trade “benefits all of our countries.”

“It’s definitely a win-win,” she said before she hopped in the Chevrolet Volt and drove it to her embassy.

In a trip seen as a boost for the deal between Seoul and Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled here last weekend and said the sides are in the “home stretch” to ratify the agreement.

The National Assembly here is waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the agreement first to facilitate its ratification in South Korea. In December, Seoul and Washington produced a supplemental agreement to address U.S. concerns over lopsided auto trade, the biggest hurdle to getting congressional approval of the deal.

The major opposition party here, however, is poised to oppose the pact citing possible harm to the agricultural and other smaller industries here. They have also voiced concerns of excessive dependence on the U.S. economy.

The South Korea-EU free trade deal was signed in 2009 but hit a snag when South Korean lawmakers found a slew of translation errors in its Korean text version this year. In its latest show of disapproval, a National Assembly subcommittee voted down a related motion last week. South Korea has pledged to implement the deal starting July 1. The EU parliament approved the deal in February. 

(Yonhap News)
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