South Korea, U.S. Enter Final Day Of 'Decisive' Free Trade Round

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 9:04 pm

By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ U.S. and South Korean negotiators entered their final day of free trade talks Monday, what is expected to be the end of formal negotiations aimed at concluding a landmark deal by the end of March.

Kim Jong-hoon, Seoul's chief negotiator, said Sunday that some areas such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and U.S. antidumping measures may not be resolved until the last minute, possibly even requiring the intervention of the two countries' leaders, Yonhap news agency reported.

The two sides need to have a deal by the end of March to take advantage of President Bush's expiring special trade promotion powers that make getting a deal through Congress easier.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said last week that the current round of talks is ``decisive.'' She also said some issues may need further time to work out.

If successful, the proposed deal to cut tariffs and other barriers to trade would be the first for the U.S. in Northeast Asia, home to three of the world's top 10 economies. It would also be the biggest such accord for Washington since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

South Korea and the U.S. say an agreement would boost economic growth and trade, but opponents say it would harm the livelihoods of farmers and workers. Anti-free trade protests have dogged the negotiators since the talks began last year.

South Korea, the world's 10th-largest economy, and the U.S. had $72 billion in trade in 2005. South Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner.

Any deal needs to be approved by South Korea's National Assembly and the U.S. Congress.

The two sides have only about three weeks to take advantage of Bush's special Trade Promotion Authority to send agreements to Congress for votes without amendments.

The so-called ``fast track'' power expires on July 1. Various legal requirements, however, mean an agreement must be completed 90 days before, or in this case by about the end of March.

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