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South Korea Expects Free Trade Talks With US Next Month

SEOUL (AFP)--South Korea expects new talks with the U.S. next month on ratifying a free trade pact, its trade minister said Monday, adding Washington now seems more in favor of the deal. The U.S. administration appears to be increasingly "positive" about the accord, which was signed in 2007 but still needs ratification by the legislatures of both countries, minister Kim Jong-hoon told parliament. "I believe (both countries) will be able to open discussions in May" ahead of a planned summit in June, he said. Before his election as U.S. President in November, Barack Obama called the deal "badly flawed." He said it did too little to narrow a huge trade imbalance in Seoul's favor in the auto trade. South Korea has ruled out renegotiating the pact. U.S. officials didn't mention renegotiation, although they have expressed dissatisfaction with the pact, Kim said. A U.S. trade journal last week quoted Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Danny Sepulveda as saying Washington would try to address outstanding issues on trade agreements without renegotiating, Kim said. "I see such remarks as very positive signs," he said, urging parliament to ratify the pact as soon as possible. The ruling Grand National Party argues that approval by Seoul will encourage the U.S. Congress to approve it too. Opposition legislators say it is premature to endorse the pact until the U.S. side appears more favorable. South Korea shipped about 700,000 cars to the U.S. in 2007 while 5,000 moved in the opposite direction, official figures showed. Analysts in Seoul say the figures are misleading, since they exclude more than 125,000 vehicles made by a General Motors Corp. (GM) subsidiary in Korea while including vehicles made by a Hyundai Motor America Inc. plant in Alabama.

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