Free trade pact with United States would benefit both sides, South Korea says

"I think signing an FTA will not bring disadvantage to one partner," Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy Chung Sye-kyun told reporters. "It would be a win-win gain for both sides."

Chung was speaking just two weeks before the countries are to start negotiations toward an agreement which, if successful, would be the largest such accord for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

Formal talks are to begin on June 5 in Washington, putting the countries under a tight deadline as theBush Administration's "fast track" trade authority to negotiate an agreement and submit it to Congress for a simple yea-or-nay vote without amendments runs out in mid-2007.

Despite the two governments' commitment to successfully forge free trade relations, negotiators must clear some hurdles, the AP reports.

South Korean farmers, who have protested violently against any reduction of protections for agriculture, especially for rice, oppose the agreement.

Seoul wants goods manufactured at a special economic zone in North Korea included in the pact, while Washington has opposed the idea.

The U.S. wants more access for industrial goods like automobiles and steel, as well as services in South Korea, the world's 10th-largest economy by some measures.

Chung expressed confidence that differences can be overcome.

"Of course there are sensitive issues such as the service sector and the agriculture sector," he said. "But I think that overall the Korea-US FTA will bring benefits to both sides. And we will work hard to see that both sides get benefits."