So far lawmakers from both countries have refused to ratify the free-trade agreement that was signed in 2007, and the US has been pressuring S. Korea to further open its automobile and beef markets.
Earlier this month, trade representatives of both sides failed to finalize the agreement ahead of the meeting between Korean President Lee Myung-bak and US President Barack Obama at the Group of 20 summit in Seoul. S. Korean officials and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk will resume their next round of talks on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Columbia, near Washington.
During the past month, Kim and Kirk have met frequently in Washington and Seoul as both countries increased their efforts to cement an agreement, but the talks have gone in circles because the S. Koreans have been balking at US demands for full-scale imports of American beef.
The S. Koreans have been insisting repeatedly that beef should have no part in the FTA talks and are reluctant to touch the subject due to public sensitivity in that country. S. Korea only allows imports of US beef from cattle less than 30 months old over fears of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), but the US has been demanding S. Korea accept all cuts of US beef despite the age of cattle.
S. Korea banned imports of US beef in 2003 after the first BSE find was made in the US, but the country partially resumed US beef imports in 2008. In 2009, US beef exports to S. Korea reached $216 million, making that country the fourth-largest importer of US beef products.