November 17, 2009 / 5:50 AM / 10 years ago

Q+A: What is in store for Obama in South Korea?

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will arrive in South Korea on Wednesday and hold a summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday, with North Korea and a trade deal topping the agenda of their talks.

Here are some questions and answers about the meeting:

HOW WILL NORTH KOREA FIGURE AT THE OBAMA-LEE SUMMIT?

The Obama administration is expected to dispatch its first envoy to North Korea in the next few weeks in a bid to bring back to life broader talks on ending Pyongyang’s atomic ambitions in exchange for massive aid and better global standing.

Lee has supported the move, and both leaders will probably agree they do not want talks for talks sake but expect North Korea to take real steps to roll back its nuclear plans.

The two want to see at least a return to commitments reached in 2005 under a six-way deal where the North resumes taking apart its aging Yongbyon nuclear plant and allowing in international inspectors to verify claims it made about its nuclear program.

WILL THERE BE ANY MOVEMENT ON THE STALLED FREE TRADE DEAL?

There could be some progress but few expect a breakthrough in the two-way trade deal reached about two years ago that has yet to be approved by legislatures in either country.

South Korea insists it will not renegotiate the deal estimates said could increase their $83 billion a year in two-way trade by more than $20 billion.

South Korean officials have said Seoul is ready to discuss areas of concern raised by the Obama administration that include the automobile trade.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE AUTOMOBILE TRADE?

The deal with the United States is supposed roll back tariffs and end a tax on engine displacement that U.S. automakers have said hurt sales of their products.

U.S. officials have complained about numerous non-tariff barriers to trade in the sector not addressed in the deal.

Foreign cars make up about 6 percent of the vehicles on the road in South Korea. Analysts have said even if all barriers are removed, U.S. cars will not make significant gains in the market where imports from Germany and Japan have been making steady gains and locals have shown little appetite for U.S. offerings.

HOW IMPORTANT IS TRADE BETWEEN THE TWO?

South Korea is Washington’s seventh largest trading partner while the United States is the third largest partner for Seoul.

The United States had a trade deficit of $13.4 billion in 2008. U.S. foreign direct investment in South Korea was $27.2 billion in 2007, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said.

Since the two reached their trade deal, South Korea has struck other trade deals with the European Union and India.

WHAT ESLE WILL BE ON THE AGENDA?

Obama and Lee will reaffirm their military alliance.

The United States, which positions about 28,000 of its troops in the South to deter the North from attacking, has a deal with Seoul to turn over the war time command of its troops by 2012.

Under the current deal that is a legacy of U.S. involvement in the 1950-53 Korean War, the South’s soldiers would be under command of U.S. forces if there’s a war on the peninsula.

Additional reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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