SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's top trade official on Sunday defended a hard-fought compromise with the United States to salvage a stalled free trade agreement, rejecting accusations that his government gave up too much to seal the deal.
Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk reached a final agreement Friday after four days of negotiations focusing on US demands that South Korea rework the deal to address its big trade surplus in automobiles.
The South Korea-US free trade agreement was originally signed in June 2007, but steps to ratify it stalled amid changes in government in both countries, the global financial crisis and American demands that South Korea loosen its import restrictions on American autos and beef.
South Korea, which long said it would not budge on the initial deal, ultimately compromised and addressed key US concerns on cars, though it also received benefits in return such as a two-year delay in the elimination of South Korean tariffs on pork imports. Beef was not included in the deal.
"I cannot agree with some views that (the agreement was the result) of our unilateral concession," Kim, the trade minister, told reporters Sunday, calling it a "win-win" deal.
Kim returned to South Korea on Saturday after participating in the talks near Washington. Before becoming trade minister he was South Korea's chief negotiator for the original agreement.
The pact, which requires approval by the US Congress and South Korea's National Assembly, is the largest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.