Korean and U.S. negotiators met this week in Seoul for their sixth round of talks aimed at arriving at a free-trade pact. Washington pushed for a full reopening of Korea's beef market, while Korea's Ag Ministry pledged to protect sensitive markets such as beef and rice.

The Korea Herald says little progress is expected on ag items during the current round of talks. Rather both sides will feel each other out on their products of interest and willingness to compromise, with earnest negotiations likely to begin in February in order to meet the July deadline when the Bush administration's fast-track trade negotiation authority ends. A deal between the two nations would represent the largest free-trade agreement with a single market for both sides.

Ag is the most sensitive sector for Korea, as local farmers fear competition from the world's largest economy, the article says. It's a sensitivity reflected in the 235 ag items listed in Seoul's "undefined category," which includes beef, rice, pork, chicken, oranges, tangerines, pears, apples and potatoes.

Such undefined items are treated in a number of different ways, including tariff phase-outs over time, complete or partial exclusion from tariff elimination, or controlling trade volumes via tariff rate quotas, the article says.
-- Joe Roybal