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[Newsmaker]TPP to be hot potato in Korea-U.S. ties

Minister of Trade, Energy and Industry Yoon Sang-jick. (Yonhap News)
Minister of Trade, Energy and Industry Yoon Sang-jick. (Yonhap News)
The participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement among countries in Asia-Pacific nations, is likely to be a hot economic issue between Korea and the United States next year, given the two countries’ bilateral FTA.

The United States seemingly welcomes Korea’s announcement of its interest in the TPP participation, but at the same time it is apparently building up pressure for Korea to prioritize the bilateral FTA.

Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a forum on Thursday that Korea would “not get a free pass to enter the TPP without implementing the KORUS FTA.”

In the earlier part of her speech, the official largely welcomed the Korean government’s recent announcement of “interest” in the U.S.-led multilateral trade pact, saying that her organization was “excited” about it.

But her open-armed comments were soon followed by the emphasis that a full and faithful implementation of the bilateral FTA is needed before Korea joins the TPP talks.

The KORUS FTA was signed in 2007 and went into effect in 2012, but still faces partial challenges such as non-tariff barriers in the automobile industry and the lack of transparency in the financial sector, according to Overby.

The U.S. official also said that she plans to speak this week with Ahn Ho-young, Korean ambassador to the United States, to deliver such concerns on the trade deal.

Her words came amid speculations that in order to take a belated step into the world’s largest trade bloc, Korea may have to pay its price or at least prove its sincerity.

The U.S.-based Korea Economic Institute of America also suggested through its recent report that TPP member states may want to “test” the Korean government’s commitment to the round.

The TPP talks, which are expected to wrap up as early as January next year, currently involves a total of 12 nations: the U.S., Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

By Bae Hyun-jung (