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(LEAD) S. Korea's agro-trade deficit with U.S. 'serious': minister

2017/10/12 15:42

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By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has posted a huge trade deficit with the United States in the agricultural sector, so there's not much to surrender when the two nations hold talks to amend the bilateral trade pact, Seoul's farm minister said Thursday.

Agriculture minister Kim Young-rok said Washington can call on Seoul to lift more tariffs in the agriculture sector as the two nations last week agreed to renegotiate terms of the five-year trade pact, known as "KORUS FTA."

   "When looking into the agricultural sector only, the trade deficit with the U.S. is serious and the damage has been grown over time," Kim said during a parliamentary audit. "I think there's no more room in terms of giving more in this sector during the FTA talks. In response to any demands, we will try to make the U.S. understand the damage incurred on the (Korean agricultural) industry."

   Although the government hasn't received specific demands from Washington so far, the government is working on a list of strategies to deal with the upcoming negotiations, he said.

South Korea's agricultural goods and meat exports to the U.S. reached US$716 million last year while imports amounted to $6.9 billion, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

The country's trade deficit with the U.S. in the sector reached $6.14 billion in 2016, the data showed.

South Korea has said that the trade deal has been mutually beneficial, but Washington said it has had a persistent goods deficit with South Korea for nearly two decades.

Experts said that even though the U.S. has a deficit in goods trade in auto and steel, the country has enjoyed surpluses in services and food-related areas under the deal, and U.S. deficits in goods trade would have been larger had it not been for the pact.

Agriculture Minister Kim Young-rok speaks during a parliamentary audit at the National Assembly on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap) Agriculture Minister Kim Young-rok speaks during a parliamentary audit at the National Assembly on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

The policymaker, meanwhile, said he will continue to push for easing an anti-corruption law by raising the cap on the values of gifts, as part of efforts to mitigate its impact on farmers, fishermen and the related industries.

The anti-graft act, which took effect in September last year, places a 30,000 won (US$25), 50,000 won and 100,000 won ceiling on the value of meals, gifts and congratulatory or condolence money offered to government officials, journalists and teachers.

While the law has received public support for improving transparency and social fairness, those in the agricultural, livestock and floriculture industries have complained the price ceiling for gifts heavily weighed on their businesses. A package gift of Korean beef or dried croakers, popular holiday gift items, often goes over 100,000 won.

"We propose adjusting price caps for meals and gifts to 50,000 won and 100,000 won, while downgrading the congratulatory and condolence money from 100,000 won to 50,000 won," Agriculture Minister Kim Young-rok said during a parliamentary audit, calling for lawmakers' cooperation to revise the law.

The agriculture and fishery ministries have sought to review the enforcement ordinance to help local industries, but opponents say such a measure could weaken the law's intended purpose.