South Korea has suggested holding talks on the U.S.-initiated renegotiations of the bilateral free trade agreement in Seoul soon after its government restructuring is completed.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Tuesday that Trade Minister Paik Un-gyu made the proposal in a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer.
In the letter, the minister said the Seoul government is aware of Washington's concerns over its trade deficit in goods with Korea and is "willing to engage in constructive discussions on ways to foster an expanded and balanced bilateral economic and trade relationship."
Paik added that regarding Washington’s request to convene a special session of the Joint Committee under the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA), Korea agreed to hold the requested session in accordance with due procedures set in the agreement.
The minister suggested the session be convened at an appropriate time in the near future when Seoul's government reorganization is completed, pointing out that Korea is still in the process of establishing a trade bureau under the ministry and appointing a new minister in charge of trade negotiations.
The ministry also suggested the joint committee discuss how to objectively examine, analyze, and assess the effects of the KORUS FTA since its enforcement.
On July 12th, the USTR proposed a Joint Committee session be held in Washington in August to review the possibility of revising the FTA in order to address the issue of imbalanced trade between the two countries.
Regarding the venue, the minister proposed that the session be held in Seoul, saying that Korea should be given first consideration as stipulated in the KORUS FTA.
The agreement states that the talks be held in the country that has received the request for negotiations if a venue has not been agreed upon. Trade negotiations are a war of endurance and concentration and it's believed to be more beneficial for Seoul if the session takes place at home.
As for the date, it's difficult for the U.S. to solely focus on the KORUS FTA in terms of time and resources as renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, is set to begin on August 16.
During the Joint Committee session, Korea's primary goal is to avoid a renegotiation of the trade deal. Its counter proposal to assess the effects of the FTA stems from this strategy.
Yeo Han-koo, trade policy chief at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, also said that a solution to striking a balance in bilateral trade interests need not necessarily be through a revised trade deal.
His remark implies that if U.S. concern lies with the goods deficit with Korea, this can be reduced for instance through expanded Korean imports of U.S. shale gas.
Even if renegotiation talks do open, Seoul is determined not to be passive, employing strategies to demand U.S. concessions in areas where Korea is posting deficits such as intellectual property rights and the travel sector.