- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Koreans are likely to be more receptive to a free-trade agreement with the European Union than the United States, a country some perceive as an economic threat, the head of a government-backed research institute said yesterday.

“The fact is that the Korea-U.S. FTA is creating high-level emotional reaction from many Korean people,” said Lee Kyung-tae, president of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. “So we have to deal with this. But I see a lesser reaction for a Korea-EU FTA.”

Meanwhile, a major union threatened a partial strike for next week to protest a proposed free-trade agreement with the United States.

Mr. Lee made the comments during a question-and-answer session after an address to the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea. The institute advises the South Korean government on international economic policy issues and carries out research.

South Korea is engaged in tough negotiations with the United States to achieve a free-trade agreement by the end of this year. Agriculture and the status of a South Korea-backed industrial zone in North Korea are major sticking points.

The two sides held their first formal talks last month in Washington with a second round set for next week in Seoul, where large protests by farm groups, labor unions and the entertainment industry are expected.

Seoul and the European Union have engaged in feasibility studies toward free-trade negotiations. Preliminary talks are scheduled for later this month in Brussels.

“To some Korean people, the U.S. is perceived to be a very threatening power economically,” Mr. Lee said. “But I don’t think the EU is perceived equally with the U.S.”

He said that many South Koreans see the European Union, not the United States, as an “ideal social model” for their country.

Mr. Lee, a former South Korean ambassador to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, also said he sees “less confrontation” in negotiations with Brussels, particularly regarding farm policy.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has organized a partial strike for next Wednesday, when 300,000 union members could walk off the job temporarily to oppose a proposed Seoul-Washington free trade agreement, the labor group said yesterday.

“We are opposing the government’s hasty negotiations over the FTA because it could worsen and threaten South Korean employees’ working conditions and life quality,” said Kang Sang-chul, a spokesman for the trade union.

Mr. Lee, in introductory remarks to his address, expressed concern over the potential for violence during the Seoul round of talks, scheduled to begin Monday.


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