Seoul allows U.S. to push FTA deadline back twice: reports

Posted on : 2007-04-02 14:04 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Critics say Seoul’s acquiescence underscores its weak position in negotiations

The deadline to end talks on a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the U.S. was extended two times since the original March 30 deadline. The Korean government, which had maintained that it would not extend the talks beyond the original deadline even if the U.S. proposed such a delay, could not save face in the ensuing situation, as the deadline was pushed back not once but twice by the U.S. side.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade clearly stated its intention to finish the talks by 6 p.m. on March 30, Washington time, in line with a deadline set by the U.S. negotiators in the hopes that the deal would face an easier time gaining passage in U.S. Congress due to a trade promotion pact set to expire shortly.

In order to be considered under the trade promotion pact, the fast track authority the final bargain would have to be on President George W. Bush’s desk on the morning of April 1, but as lawmakers in the U.S. do not work over the weekend, the deadline was drawn up in advance to fall at the end of the day on Friday, March 30, Washington time (March 31 local time), the ministry said.

However, U.S negotiators reportedly asked for a 48-hour extension of the talks at 3 p.m. on March 30, Seoul time, just eight hours before the deadline, with reports that a meeting between President Roh Moo-hyun and ministers related to the FTA had been postponed.

Officials in the presidential office called the media reports groundless, saying that the meeting would take place as planned. And at 4 p.m., Steve Norton, a U.S. Trade Representative spokesman, denied reports that the U.S. negotiators had decided on the deadline extension, saying that the talks would conclude as scheduled. Presidential office officials also said that the schedule had not been changed.

But as both sides reportedly failed to find common ground in such sensitive areas as automobiles, farming, textiles, and finance by midnight on March 30, Seoul time, negotiators agreed to use the initial deadline to merely announce that a deal had been struck, but save fine-tuning in pending areas for further talks, sources said.

Hours later, however, U.S. Congress reportedly disagreed with this plan, placing the prospect for the deal in jeopardy. The U.S. negotiators then reportedly notified their Seoul partners of a 48-hour deadline extension after having reportedly agreed with the U.S. Congress to extend the deadline to 6 a.m. April 2, Seoul time, which would be 5 p.m. April 1, Washington time. South Korea’s top negotiator Kim Jong-hun officially annnounced this revised plan at a press conference on March 31, Seoul time. The thinking surrounding this new deadline was that if the pact was struck by 1 a.m. April 2, Seoul time, the U.S. negotiators could prepare it to be delivered to U.S. Congress in time under the trade promotion pact, said Kim.

However, even the second deadline was not met, as the deal was finally struck around 1 p.m. Seoul time on March 2 (12 p.m. on March 1, Washington time).

Critics have maintained that South Korea has been swayed by the U.S. in setting the negotiation schedule, in that the Korean negotiating team set its original strategy for the talks in line with the timetable set by the U.S. Congress, and then twice accepted an extended deadline.

"The 48-hour extension was designated by the U.S., which wants to gain additional ground in the deal by holding South Korean negotiators as hostage for two more days," said Chun Jung-bae, a former justice minister and a member of the pro-goverment Uri Party. Chun is on his 8th day of a hunger strike in protest of the Seoul-Washington FTA.

Please direct questions or comments to []

Most viewed articles