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Korea to reinforce manpower, organization ahead of FTA revision talks: trade minister

Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong said Friday he will reinforce the manpower and conduct a reorganization of the Office of International Trade and Investment to effectively cope with possible revisions to the trade deal with the United States.

Kim held a video conference with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last month to exchange views on Washington's request for revisions to the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement.

The conference was held as Lighthizer requested a meeting a month earlier to consider matters affecting the operation of the deal, including "possible amendments and modifications to resolve several problems regarding market access in Korea for US exports and, most importantly, to address the significant trade imbalance."
 

Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong (R) speaks at a video conference in Seoul on Aug. 22, 2017. At left is US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. (Yonhap)
Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong (R) speaks at a video conference in Seoul on Aug. 22, 2017. At left is US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. (Yonhap)

The FTA, which went into effect in 2012, has been considered a symbol of deepening bilateral economic ties, but US President Donald Trump has vowed to fix or scrap the deal, calling it "horrible."

"We will also be prepared for any contingencies under the principle of maximizing our national interests," Kim told a parliamentary subcommittee on trade and energy.

The trade minister reiterated the government's position that both sides need to analyze and evaluate the effects of the bilateral free trade deal before undertaking further talks.

The US has not yet responded to such a proposal made by Kim during the video conference.

The country's top negotiator also said he will enhance contacts with the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, US think tanks and parliamentary leaders to seek their support for the upcoming negotiation with the US government for the trade deal revision.

Bilateral trade volume increased to $109.6 billion in 2016 from $100.8 billion in 2011, with South Korea's trade surplus reaching some $27 billion in 2016, up from $11.6 billion tallied five years earlier.

South Korea insists the deal has benefited both sides, noting Washington has enjoyed surpluses in the services trade with South Korea while suffering a deficit in the goods trade.

Tami Overby, senior vice president for Asia at the US Chamber of Commerce, has said the deal should not be blamed for Washington's trade deficit with Seoul, claiming the losses would have been "significantly higher" without the deal. (Yonhap)

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