- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

SEOUL (AP) — The United States and South Korea need more time to negotiate a free-trade deal, and have extended the talks to tomorrow, the two governments said here early yesterday.

“Negotiations continue between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea on a number of outstanding issues,” said Sean M. Spicer, U.S. trade representative for public affairs.

Negotiators for the two sides missed an original U.S.-imposed deadline of midnight last night in South Korea, but kept talking past sunrise yesterday before making the announcement of the extension.

The two sides, which began negotiating the deal almost 10 months ago, have been meeting all week, but have apparently failed to bridge gaps on contentious issues.

The extension is needed “so that the administration can decide whether to notify Congress of its intent to sign by Sunday, April 1, the deadline for congressional notification under Trade Promotion Authority,” Mr. Spicer said.

The White House wants to finalize a deal by that date so it can still be submitted to Congress for a straight yes-or-no vote without amendments. This “fast track” power granted to President Bush by Congress expires on July 1, but requires a 90-day window for congressional review.

South Korea’s chief negotiator in the talks, Ambassador Kim Jong-hoon, also announced the extension to reporters.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia have been meeting at a Seoul hotel since Monday, trying to overcome differences on contentious issues such as autos, agriculture and textiles.

If successful, the trade deal would be the biggest for Washington since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, and the biggest by far for South Korea. The countries do more than $75 billion in trade a year.

Both Congress and South Korea’s National Assembly will need to approve an agreement if one is reached, though debate and final votes are likely to take months.

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