SEOUL-- Bracing for a tough renegotiation with the United States over a bilateral free trade agreement, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong has recently requested the government sharply beef up his team and give him the authority to terminate the five-year-old pact if the result harms national interests, an informed source said Thursday.
The two countries started talks last month as the U.S. demanded improvement of the deal to address its deficits in bilateral trade since the pact took effect in 2012.
"He made those requests recently and the presidential office and political circles, including the ruling party, are positively mulling them over," a source close to the matter told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity.
Kim, who leads the Korean side in the talks, has asked for augmentation of the negotiating team with around 80 diplomats with experience on trade issues from the foreign ministry, he said.
Currently Kim's team has around 40 officials versed in trade negotiations, far short of the 200 staffers who were involved in the negotiation of the trade pact.
He also asked for authority to terminate the FTA with the U.S. if the renegotiation process does not guarantee protection of South Korea's key interests, saying that such a mandate could help draw the best outcome from the talks.
Kim earlier told lawmakers that all "possibilities should be taken into consideration including the case of negotiations falling apart."
"At the negotiating table, I deal with security and trade separately. We need to enter into trade negotiations with a businesslike mind to maximize national interests," he said in a mid-October parliamentary audit.
Kim was the country's top negotiator for the Korea-U.S. FTA talks in the 2000s when the foreign ministry used to be in charge of negotiations on major free trade deals.
In 2013, the foreign ministry's trade-related function was transferred to the commerce ministry, which had its own trade bureau ever since.
The Moon Jae-in administration, which took office in May, sought to put the foreign ministry back in charge of trade issues but it was decided to stay.
Instead, the bureau was turned into a vice minister-level organization and Kim was appointed to the top negotiator position again.
A foreign ministry source told Yonhap that there has been no "official" request from the trade minister about the recruitment but noted that it was discussed as part of some "ideas."
He added it is possible that the ministry staffed with many diplomats well-versed in trade issues can provide necessary "support."
It still remains to be seen whether the trade minister's demand will be accepted as transferring as many as 80 government officials will require time and complex procedures.
Many of the diplomats who used to get involved in trade negotiations at the foreign ministry are currently working at overseas missions, observers said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency