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Top trade officials from South Korea and the United States will meet

Top trade officials from South Korea and the United States will meet next week to iron out auto and other remaining issues on their long-stalled free trade deal ahead of the Group of 20 summit, Seoul’s trade ministry said Friday.

Seoul and Washington signed the accord back in 2007 but the pact failed to win parliamentary approval from both sides as the U.S. demanded that South Korea further open up its auto and beef markets.

During the two-day meeting that starts Monday in Seoul, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and his U.S. counterpart Ron Kirk will seek to strike a final compromise on the deal before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama meet on the side of the G-20 summit in Seoul scheduled for Nov. and12, the ministry noted.

The top trade officials met last week in the U.S. in an effort to reach an agreement on outstanding issues but failed to narrow differences.

Many lawmakers in the U.S. complained about the pact’s auto provisions which they claim do too little to tear down South Korea’s non-tariff barriers to U.S. auto imports.

The U.S. also wants South Korea to lift restrictions on shipment of beef.

South Korea imports beef only from cattle less than 30 months old due to fear of mad cow disease.

The United States reported three cases of the disease between 2003 and 2006.

In response, Seoul banned imports of U.S. beef in 2003 before resuming this in late 2008.

This led to months of street rallies.

Industry statistics show U.S. beef exports to South Korea reached US6 million last year, making South Korea the fourth-biggest importer of U.S. beef products.

Bilateral trade between South Korea and the U.S. totaled .7 billion in 2009, down from .7 billion in 2008 as global commerce suffered during the economic downturn. (PNA/Yonhap)

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