Korean Free Trade Deal Stalls

Despite a self-imposed deadline, the agreement needs more work.

Published on: Nov 12, 2010

Pres. Barack Obama is in South Korea this week to attend the G20 Summit. One self-imposed part of that trip was to settle that Korea Free Trade Agreement. Talks over the FTA had stalled, in part due to Korea's limits on U.S. beef and cars.

The deal, which originally reached in 2007, needs those changes and both governments' leaders had vowed to get an agreement. However, trade negotiators from both countries couldn't bridge all the gaps in time for Obama's arrival in Seoul.

This lack of an agreement may be bad news for Obama's trade efforts. Wire services point out, for example, that in his first two years in office no single significant trade deal has moved forward. At a time with the World Trade Organization is stalled on major agreements - bilateral arrangements between countries have become the rule of the day.

Nontariff barriers to cars and farm products remain the sticking point. Meanwhile Korean products are selling quite well in the United States - from Samsung TVs and Refrigerators to Hyundai cars. While Korean officials note that more U.S. components are making their way into Korean products, there's more work to be done.

In response to news of the stalled FTA, the U.S. Meat Export Federation issued a statement noting their disappointment. "The U.S. beef and pork industries stand to benefit directly from Korea's phased elimination of duties under the FTA, and we regret that our industry members cannot yet realize those benefits," said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. "We strongly support passage of the agreement at the earliest opportunity."

One of the two issues identified by the U.S. government which must be resolved before the FTA can move forward is the question of Korea's restrictions on imports of U.S. beef.

USMEF expects that the elimination of Korea's import duties, together with the associated growth in demand for U.S. beef and pork in Korea, will result in significant export gains for the U.S. red meat industry.

Farmers holding out hope for the Korea FTA will have to wait a little longer.