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(LEAD) Early beef talks possible between U.S., S. Korea: Cutler
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- A top U.S. trade official said Wednesday that the Obama administration may soon renew a push for unfettered access to the South Korean beef market.

   "It's possible that in the near future we may decide that it would be useful to have consultations (on the issue)," Wendy S. Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and APEC affairs, said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Wendy S. Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative, for Japan, Korea and APEC affairs, is interviewed by Yonhap News Agency.

South Korea currently imports U.S. beef produced from cattle only under 30 months of age due to an earlier scare over mad cow disease.

   Beef trade with the U.S. is politically and emotionally charged in South Korea. A 2008 decision by the outgoing Lee Myung-bak government to resume imports of American beef sparked months of massive street protests.

   Cutler said the U.S. focus now is to increase beef exports under the existing agreement and win more consumer confidence in South Korea.

   But she would not rule out the possibility of talks with Seoul to open the market wider.

   "There may be. There is no secret," Cutler said at the interview at the headquarters of the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. "There is a consultation provision under the agreement."

   Cutler, who served as chief U.S. negotiator for a free trade agreement with South Korea, expressed satisfaction over the implementation of the pact, dubbed KORUS FTA, which went into effect in March.

   "We are quite pleased with the implementation of the KORUS FTA over the past 10 months," she said. "I think now that we see the results of KORUS coming in and trade increasing in both sides by both countries we can say it's a win-win agreement."

   She admitted that it's still too early to conclude which side is benefiting more.

   In tandem with efforts to operate the KORUS FTA smoothly, the U.S. is continuing to update South Korea on the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

   The U.S. is negotiating with 10 nations -- Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico and Brunei Darussalam. Washington is apparently hoping for participation by Japan and South Korea.

   "We think that South Korea is a natural candidate to join the TPP for a number of reasons," Cutler said, citing Seoul's high-standard FTAs with multiple nations and expected benefits.

   "It's no secret for the United States we regard the TPP as the best vehicle towards regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region," Cutler added.

   Nonetheless, the U.S. will not press Seoul to consider joining it.

   It is South Korea's decision whether it's worth doing, she said.

   Cutler expressed optimism over trade relations between the Obama administration and the incoming South Korean government of Park Geun-hye.

   "I think under her administration there are strong prospects for deepening and strengthening our economic ties and we are really looking forward to working with Madam Park and her team to really expand, strengthen and deepen our trade and economic relations," Cutler said.

   She said the Obama administration will continue efforts to expand trade ties with the Asia-Pacific region.

   On a bid by South Korea's Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho to lead the World Trade Organization, Cutler simply said the U.S. government takes no position yet on any of the nine candidates.

   "We are in the information gathering mode like other WTO members," she said.