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No 'free pass' for S. Korea into TPP: Overby

South Korea should not be granted a 'free pass' to enter the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) unless it fully implements the bilateral free trade agreement called "KORUS FTA," a representative from the U.S. business community said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum, Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is "excited" about South Korea's announcement of its interest in the TPP talks, which she expects to be completed in January.

Realistically, however, the full and faithful implementation of KORUS FTA is needed before Seoul can enter the TPP, she said at the conference on the Seoul-Washington ties. It was co-hosted by the East-West Center and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

South Korea "would not get a free pass to enter the TPP without implementation of KORUS FTA," Overby said, citing discussions at a recent U.S.-Korea Business Council meeting.

She said the FTA, which was signed in 2007 but took effect in 2012, is going well overall but it still faces some challenges including non-tariff barriers in the auto sector and lack of transparency issue in financial fields, she added.

Overby said she plans to meet with Ahn Ho-young, South Korean Ambassador to the U.S., this week to raise the concerns about the implementation of the FTA.

Her public comments came amid growing worries in South Korea that the major Asian economy may feel increased pressure over its trade policy as it seeks TPP membership.

In a report, the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI), a Washington-based think tank, said the U.S. and other nations participating in the TPP talks will try to test Seoul's commitment to free trade.

Current TPP members will engage South Korea in a series of consultations to "seek commitments from Korea in regard to its ambition for the negotiations and potentially to resolve some existing trade irritants prior to Korea's accession," said Troy Stangarone, senior director for congressional affairs and trade at the KEI.

It would increase pressure on Seoul to open its markets wider, as Washington has asked Seoul to address issues related to its ban on American beef imports and screen quota ahead of KORUS FTA talks, he said in the report.

"In the case of Korea and TPP, current participants could also seek advance commitments from Korea prior to granting it membership," he added.

TPP talks, apparently on the verge of a deal, include a total of 12 nations -- U.S., Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. (Yonhap News)

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