South Korea and the United States made progress in three of the most sensitive issues in their crucial round of free trade agreement (FTA) talks, top negotiators for both sides said on Wednesday, but added they aren’t nearing a breakthrough yet.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, Washington’s chief negotiator, told Yonhap News Agency in an interview that the progress was made at informal meetings this week with her South Korean counterpart, Ambassador Kim Jong-hoon, to resolve the three sticky issues — antidumping laws, automobiles and pharmaceuticals.

But she declined to elaborate on specific areas of progress at the informal meetings with Kim, saying, “My mood is upbeat and I feel we can do this.”
“We have had very frank and tough discussions,” Cutler said. “But I think they have been extremely useful and we are continuing them.”
Later in the day, Cutler’s South Korean counterpart Kim echoed her remarks, but gave a cautious view. “Though there is progress at the chief negotiator level, we can’t say this is an end of negotiations.”
Ending the third day of the latest round of talks, Kim said, “I will make my utmost efforts to find a common ground in the contentious areas.”
South Korea and the U.S. started this round of talks Monday, the sixth since June last year, after having failed to make a breakthrough on key issues in the previous rounds.

Although both sides have made progress in the knotty issues at informal meetings, obstacles seem to remain.

While her counterpart Kim said he will keep pushing the U.S. to change its trade remedy laws, Cutler said she won’t make any concessions. If South Korea makes a revised proposal that doesn’t require her government to change laws on antidumping and countervailing measures, she said, “the door remains open.”
In the area of automobiles, one of America’s major concerns, Cutler underscored the importance of opening up the South Korean auto market.

“Our car manufacturers sell about 4,000 cars here, Korean manufacturers sell about 800,000 in the U.S.,” she said. “So, I hear repeatedly from my Congress and my auto industry that they have high expectations on the concrete market opening in this sector.”
To tackle the thorniest issues through unofficial top-level channels, Cutler indicated that South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia may hold more meetings between the sixth and the next round. Last week, Kim and Bhatia held a three-day meeting in Hawaii, South Korean officials said.


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