South Korea declares it won't sign free trade accord with United States if it gets short end of bargain - 23 March, 2006 - News

President Roh Moo-hyun said Thursday South Korea won't sign a free trade agreement with the United States if it perceives it might get the short end of the bargain.

"I would not engage in a losing business," Roh said in a meeting with citizens, broadcast live via nation's major Internet portals, adding that South Korea will reach an accord with Washington that is acceptable to his country.

Roh, however, stressed the importance of free trade accords to South Korea 's economy, which depends on exports for most of its economic growth, saying such agreements symbolize South Korea 's opening up to the global economy.

In February, South Korea and the United States said they would begin talks on a free trade deal that, if successful, would be the biggest for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993.

The sides also announced early this month that formal negotiations will start on June 5 in Washington , putting them under a tight deadline as the Bush Administration's authority to negotiate an agreement and submit it to Congress for a simple yea-or-nay vote without amendments runs out at the end of June 2007.

Washington considers South Korea , Asia 's fourth-largest economy, a key nation for striking a free-trade deal. South Korea is the United States ' seventh-largest trading partner while the United States is the second-biggest destination for South Korean exports after China , according to U.S. and South Korean government figures.

Roh also said his government will put in place measures to help its vulnerable agriculture sector cope.

South Korean farmers, who have staged sometimes violent protests against free trade agreements, worry that removing trade barriers protecting the nation's agricultural market, especially its rice market, would wipe out their livelihoods.

South Korea launched its first free trade pact in 2004 with Chile and has since forged an agreement with Singapore and the European Free Trade Association, which comprises Switzerland , Iceland , Liechtenstein and Norway , reports the AP.


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