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Posted at 1:06 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Korea-U.S. trade talks advance

By Howard Schneider

Korean and U.S. negotiators are nearing completion of a free trade agreement that the Obama administration hopes will add billions of dollars annually to U.S. exports and build momentum for a larger trade agenda.

Three days of talks this week "made substantial progress" toward overcoming a short list
of issues involving access to the Korean market for U.S. beef and auto exporters, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement at the end of the latest round of negotiations.

Kirk met in Columbia, Md., this week with Korean trade minister Kim Jong-hoon to complete a pact seen as a barometer of whether the Obama administration feels ready to advocate free trade at a time of high unemployment and concern that imports from countries such as China and Korea undercut U.S. manufacturing jobs. The agreement would have to be approved by Congress.

Companies such as Ford in particular have noted the lopsided trade statistics in autos -- tens of thousands of cars a year are exported to the United States from Korea, but only a few thousand are shipped in the other direction -- and urged the administration not to accept a deal without clear concessions.

Leaders of the two countries had hoped to finish talks during a November meeting in Seoul, and their failure marred Obama's trip to Asia that month.

But the renewed talks have brought the two sides close to a completed agreement. Negotiations have focused around details such as the schedule for phasing out tariffs on Korean imports in the United States -- American automakers have argued for a slower pace. Other issues include the application of strict Korean emissions standards to U.S. cars, and the lifting of limits on U.S. beef exports to Korea.

By Howard Schneider  | December 3, 2010; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Trade  
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