The U.S. and South Korea have embarked on formal free trade negotiations, according to the Associated Press. AP reported today that the negotiations are part of a U.S. attempt to boost business and combate China's growing presence in the region.The negotiations are expected to take at least a year. Success is not guaranteed. According to the AP report, there is strong resistance among South Korean farmers. Many of those farmers have staged violent street demonstrations to protest giving up farm protections. An agreement would require the approval of Congress, which is also not guaranteed. Many members of Congress contend President Bush's free-trade policies can cost American jobs. The President has pushed for several free trade agreements with several countries since taking office.
South Korea's largest trade relationship is currently with China. But a representative of the South Korean government said the U.S. represents that country's most important partnership. At a press conference, U.S. trade representaive Rob Portman said that he hoped a trade deal would allow the U.S. to overtake China in trade with South Korea to give the country "a more prominent position in that market, and in other markets in Asia."
In Asia, the U.S. already has a free trade deal with Singapore, and is currently in negotiations with Thailand. Malaysia is also a possible candidate for free trade discussions.