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Cutler Says KORUS FTA Proving to Be 'Win-Win' for U.S., Korea
�� �� Ten months into the implementation of a free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the United States, Wendy S. Cutler is confident that it's a win-win mechanism.

Cutler recalled that she publicly made that prediction when the negotiations began in 2006.

"No one in Korea seemed to understand what 'win-win' meant (at that time as far as the trade deal was concerned)," Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and APEC affairs, said in an exclusive interview Wednesday with Yonhap News Agency.

She led the U.S. negotiating team for a total of eight rounds of talks with Seoul to finally reach a deal in 2007. She faced harsh criticism from the opponents of the FTA in South Korea.

After years of controversy, the FTA was ratified by the parliaments of the both nations last year and went into effect in March.

"We are quite pleased with the implementation of the KORUS FTA over the past 10 months," she said. "I think now that we see the results of KORUS coming in and trade increasing in both sides by both countries we can say it's a win-win agreement."

Wendy S. Cutler, assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and APEC affairs.

Cutler was optimistic that the FTA will continue to be carried out smoothly under the second Obama administration and the incoming South Korea government.

For the U.S. economy, the Asia-Pacific region is of key importance and Washington plans to continue to step up its engagement in the region.

The launch of the Park Geun-hye administration in Korea also bodes well for economic and trade ties between the two nations, Cutler added.

Cutler said she expects Seoul and Washington to be able to handle some remaining issues through close consultation.

She indicated that the U.S. government may begin efforts to lift South Korean restrictions on beef trade.

Under a deal nearly five years ago, South Korea imports American beef produced from cattle only under 30 months of age due to worries over mad cow disease.

"It's possible that in the near future we may decide that it would be useful to have consultations (on the issue)," Cutler said, adding no exact schedule has been set.

Another potential sticking point is Seoul's plan to review the contentious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process in the FTA.

The clause allows companies to take governments to an independent international tribunal to arbitrate disputes. Those critical of the FTA claim that it may take a toll on South Korea.

The South Korean government has already formed a task force to scrutinize the issue.

"We will be willing to listen to Korea's concerns with respect to the ISDS issue," she said.

On the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, she said, the U.S. is waiting for South Korea's decision, while providing related information.

"We think that South Korea is a natural candidate to join the TPP for a number of reasons," Cutler said, citing Seoul's high-standard FTAs with multiple nations and expected benefits. "It's no secret for the United States we regard the TPP as the best vehicle towards regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region."

But it's South Korea decision whether to take part in the talks, she said.

The U.S. aims to complete the TPP talks by the end of this year, negotiating with 10 nations -- Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico and Brunei Darussalam.

Cutler said the FTA with South Korea underscored the importance of voluntary participation in trade talks.

She said she stays in touch with her former South Korean negotiating partner, Kim Jong-hoon, who has become a lawmaker.

Asked if she intends to follow in his footsteps and enter the political world, she laughed and said, "I don't think so."

A career trade official, Cutler is expected to stay in office, although her boss, Ron Kirk, is resigning after the launch of the second Obama administration.

Ending the interview at the headquarters of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Cutler said she hopes for an improved personal image in South Korea.

"I am hopeful that over time those Korean people that have negative feelings about me, that their feelings will improve as they see the FTA bringing benefits to both countries," she said.

Source Text

Source: Yonhap News (Jan. 23, 2013)

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