- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

SEOUL (AP) — With a deadline just days away, South Korea warned yesterday that it would walk away from a free-trade deal rather than relent to U.S. pressure to open its rice market.

“The negotiations may collapse if the [free-trade agreement] fails to meet our expectations or the U.S. demands rice concessions, which our side cannot accept,” Kim Jong-hoon, Seoul’s chief negotiator, told reporters after the two sides began intensified talks to clinch a deal. “We made it clear we will deal resolutely with such a situation.”

Seoul and Washington need to wrap up an agreement by March 31 because of various legal requirements related to the July 1 expiration of President Bush’s Trade Promotion Authority. It allows him to send trade agreements to Congress for yes-or-no votes without amendments.

The tight schedule has forced the governments to turn the talks over to higher-ranking officials after Mr. Kim and his U.S. counterpart, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, failed to reach an agreement in talks last week in Washington.

Their bosses, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia, opened the latest effort earlier yesterday.

“We had meetings pretty much nonstop since this morning,” said Mr. Bhatia, who refused to reveal details or offer a progress report.

Mr. Bhatia is filling in for U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab who stayed behind in Washington for trade talks.

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