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US, S. Korean Negotiators View Trade Talks Progress Differently


Senior U.S. and South Korean negotiators have wrapped up a week of trade talks with different assessments of their progress toward a trade liberalization deal. While Washington's envoy says the talks have taken on a new intensity, the South Korean negotiator says significant problems remain. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

U.S. and South Korean negotiators announced Friday that their efforts to sign a free trade agreement will enter a seventh round next month, drawing the negotiations out even further towards a critical political deadline.

The two countries hope to improve their already robust, $75 billion-a-year trade partnership with greatly enhanced access to each other's markets. But if they do not want to deal with possible objections by members of the U.S. Congress, they have to reach a deal by June, when President Bush's authority to submit a deal to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote expires.

Senior South Korean negotiator Kim Jong-hoon says there is still plenty of work to do before a free-trade agreement, or F.T.A., can become a reality.

Kim told reporters Friday night there has been no progress in the toughest areas of the talks. He says the two sides need to work hard to build "momentum."

South Korean negotiators have demanded the United States remedy what they describe as unfair use of U.S. anti-dumping laws against South Korean exports. Anti-dumping laws and other so-called "trade remedies" protect U.S producers against overseas producers' attempts to grab market share by selling items below cost.

The South Koreans have said that until the anti-dumping issue is addressed, Seoul will refuse to make concessions on Washington's key demands - that South Korea make its pharmaceutical and automobile markets more accessible to U.S. exporters.

However, South Korean media published a leaked government report Friday indicating Seoul essentially intended drop its anti-dumping demands in order to push the talks forward. Angry government officials say they intend to take stern action against those found to be responsible for the leak.

The leak may have been a factor in what was a distinctly more optimistic assessment of the talks earlier Friday, by chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Cutler.

"There is a new mood and spirit of intensity that characterized our work this week," Cutler said.

She said she would keep her eye on success, and do everything she can to achieve it.

The negotiations are scheduled to resume on February 11 in Washington.

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