South Korea and the United States exchanged initial tariff cut proposals for manufactured goods, agricultural products and textiles ahead of their third round of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations next month, the government said Tuesday.
The proposals give a detailed timetable for cutting tariffs on 11,261 types of goods and produce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
The proposals will be the basis for the next FTA talks, scheduled to be held Sept. 6-9 in Seattle. These talks are expected to mark the beginning of hard negotiations, with both sides expected to make demands as well as concessions.
Under an agreement ironed out last month in Seoul, the two sides agreed to a five-tiered lifting of duties for manufactured goods. They include immediate lifting of duties and the scrapping or lowering of duties in three, five and 10 years. Seoul and Washington also concurred on making an exception for so-called sensitive items, which will be excluded from future tariff cuts.
"Rice and some other sensitive products have been placed on the exception list, with Seoul asking for gradual lifting of tariffs for many agricultural products," said Lee Hye-min, head of the government's FTA negotiation team. South Korea has called for the liberalization grace period to be extended to 15 years for certain agricultural products in order to minimize the repercussions for local farmers. Agriculture is expected to be the most sensitive area for South Korea.
He said the South Korean proposal, however, asks Washington to lift the high tariffs levied on textiles and clothing within the next five years.
The remarks by Lee follow ones made by Choi Seok-young, economic minister at the South Korean embassy in Washington. He told reporters on Monday that the two sides had exchanged the initial proposal through e-mail.
The official said the initial proposals put forward maximum wishes of the two sides. "Based on that, we work on the offers," the official said.
Seoul and Washington hope to wrap up the FTA talks within this year, a deadline set by the U.S. Trade Promotion Authority which expires in July next year. Commonly called the "fast track authority," the temporary legislation mandates the U.S. Congress to approve or reject an FTA without amendments.
The Seoul-Washington trade pact, known as the KORUS FTA, is regarded as the largest such accord since the North American Free Trade Agreement for the U.S. side.
Seoul, Aug. 15 (Yonhap News)