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U.S. to continue talks for Korea FTA's ratification: Clinton
By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (Yonhap) -- The United States will continue to make efforts to get a deal done for the ratification of a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea pending for more than three years over autos and beef, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

   "The president didn't finalize a deal in Korea because he was not satisfied that the deal was in the best interests of America," Clinton said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "That's what a president is supposed to do. And so he did the right thing. Obviously, he is continuing to negotiate to get a deal that is in the interests of the United States."

   U.S. President Barack Obama met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul earlier this month but failed to reach an agreement on the Korea FTA, on hold for more than three years over U.S. demands for wider access to the Korean auto and beef markets.

   Obama said in Seoul that auto trade poses a bigger obstacle than beef and pledged to complete the talks "within weeks, not months."

   Seoul officials have said they will consider easing safety and environmental standards, while the U.S. calls for a delay in the elimination of the 2.5 percent tariff on most autos and auto parts and a phase-out of the 25 percent tariff on light trucks.

   Last year, the U.S. exported 5,878 automobiles to South Korea, while South Korean auto shipments to the U.S. totaled 476,833, according to figures from the United Auto Workers union.

   On the beef issue, South Korea stands firm in its position not to discuss the U.S. demand for shipments from cattle older than 30 months. Weeks of street rallies followed South Korea's decision in early 2008 to resume U.S. beef imports despite fears of mad cow disease, which appears more often in older cattle.

   Seoul suspended shipments of U.S. beef in 2003 after cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy surfaced in the U.S.

   The U.S. beef industry recognizes the sensitivity of the issue and does not want to jeopardize the rapid increase in beef exports since 2008.

   South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon is expected to visit Washington soon to conclude negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

   Obama last week met with a group of Congressmen opposing the trade deal in last-minute efforts to persuade the opponents ahead of the soon-to-be-held Kim-Kirk meeting.

   The Korea FTA is seen as a barometer for Obama's commitment to free trade as he has set the ambitious goal of doubling exports within five years as a means of creating jobs.

   Many congressional Democrats oppose the trade deal for fear of possible job cuts amid the worst recession in decades, but free trade is seen as one of the potential areas of close cooperation between Obama and congressional Republicans, who regained control of the House in the midterm elections.

   A failure by Obama to present the deal to Congress early next year will likely doom it, as Republicans have vowed to focus on domestic issues, including taxes and a reversal of Obama's health care reform policy, ahead of the presidential election in 2012.

   Independent studies show that the FTA with South Korea will create 240,000 jobs in the U.S. and increase annual two-way trade by more than $20 billion, up from $83 billion.

   The U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea was $10.6 billion in 2009, down $2.8 billion from 2008, according to United States Trade Representative figures.

   The comparable figure for the first six months this year is $421 million on $55 billion of total trade volume, compared with the U.S. deficit with China of $115 billion and that with Japan and Germany of $18 billion each during the same period, according to South Korean government figures.

   Seoul officials say the figures do not include the more than $2 billion South Korean tourists spend in the U.S. every year and the unspecified amount of spending by 75,000 South Korean college students in the United States.

   Obama has also expressed fears that any further delay in the deal may jeopardize U.S. competitiveness in South Korea, its seventh biggest trading partner.

   South Korea has five FTAs in force with 16 countries. Seoul has signed FTAs with the European Union and Peru, which will likely take effect in the middle of next year.

   South Korea is negotiating FTAs with Australia, Canada, Mexico and nine other countries, while considering beginning talks with China, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.