January 26, 2006

US hopes for free trade talks soon with Seoul

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative
Rob Portman said on Thursday he hoped free trade negotiations
could be launched soon with South Korea.

Washington has mentioned South Korea as a possible partner
in the past, but this is the firmest indication to date that
the start of talks could be imminent.

"We are not quite there yet. We still have some issues to
discuss," Portman told journalists during the annual meeting of
political and business leaders at the Swiss mountain resort of

"I am hopeful we can do it soon," he said when asked about
the possibility of talks beginning with Seoul.

But the issue remains sensitive in South Korea, where
farmers' groups are strongly opposed to liberalization. South
Korean farmers took a lead role in anti-globalization protests
during last month's World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial
meeting in Hong Kong.

Portman will be holding talks at Davos with other trade
ministers on how to reach the WTO target of a draft global pact
on lowering trade barriers by the end of April.