US, South Korea Agree on Trade Liberalization Deal

U.S. and South Korean negotiators say they have arrived at a "win-win" deal to open up their markets to each other's products. The deal, which came after marathon late-night negotiating sessions, is one of the world's largest two-nation free trade agreements. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

Monday's announcement of a successful free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea follows 10 months of negotiations, capped off by three days of round-the-clock talks on the most sensitive issues.

Wendy Cutler, the U.S. senior negotiator, says the resulting deal has been worth the effort.

"I give it an A plus. I think it's a high quality agreement, yet it's extremely balanced."

Negotiators have not yet revealed full details of the agreement, but say it reduces or removes tariffs on nearly all products traded between the two countries.

However, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-jung told reporters Seoul insisted on keeping certain trade protections in place.

Kim says because the concerns of the South Korean people are so strong, Seoul's negotiators kept their promise to exclude the country's rice market from the agreement.

Rice production is viewed here as a traditional part of Korean culture, and is a strong rallying point for frequent demonstrations against the agreement.

In one unusually dramatic illustration of that opposition, a South Korean man set himself on fire Saturday in protest of the trade talks. He is being treated for third degree burns.

Negotiators say the deal makes progress in offering U.S. companies the kind of access they have wanted to the South Korean automobile and financial services markets. U.S. automakers have accused Seoul of using arbitrary rules as a means of suppressing imports.

Trade Minister Kim says Monday's deal leaves open the possibility that goods produced in North Korea by South Korean companies could receive the same treatment from the United States as other products. Many South Korean companies operate factories in a special economic zone in the North.

He says the two countries are forming a committee to evaluate goods produced at a South Korean industrial venture in Kaesong, North Korea. The committee may in the future choose to give goods from Kaesong and other special project zones in the North special treatment.

President Bush announced Monday's deal to Congress just hours before a deadline that would have kept him from asking for a simple yes-or-no vote from lawmakers. Past that deadline, members of Congress could have demanded dozens of amendments, hurting the chances the deal would be ratified quickly. It must be approved by the legislatures of both countries, and it is expected to be the focus of heavy political lobbying from both supporters and opponents.