WASHINGTON — U.S. and South Korean negotiators completed their sixth round of talks for a free trade agreement in Seoul on Friday, with a deadline still looming and many issues to be resolved.
Negotiators are trying to finish their work in time for Congress to consider the agreement under President Bush’s trade promotion authority, which expires at the end of June. The authority takes away the ability of legislators to amend the deal, giving the administration more latitude in negotiations.
“By March 30, we have to notify Congress that we’ve concluded the deal [to meet the current TPA deadline],” Wendy Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative and chief negotiator, said during a conference call with reporters Monday. “This deal is doable.”
A seventh round will be held in the U.S. in mid-February. Should an accord be reached and approved, it would be the largest such pact since the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which removed barriers to commerce between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Areas such as beef, automotives and trade remedies have received much of the spotlight in the talks, but South Korea is also a player in fashions. South Korea made up 4.1 percent of the apparel and textile import market for the 12 months ended Nov. 30, with shipments of 2.2 billion square meter equivalents, valued at $1.7 billion.
“We clarified a number of questions we had with respect to [South] Korea’s offer on textiles and we also engaged in discussions on our proposals, particularly on safeguards,” said Cutler, who also noted the U.S. is working to improve on its offer to adjust tariffs in the area.