SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States agreed to implement their free trade pact on March 15, Seoul's trade ministry said Tuesday, a move that helps pave the way for both countries to beef up their economic and political ties.
South Korea's parliament approved the free trade pact in November of last year despite vehement protests from opposition lawmakers. The deal was signed in July 2007 and approved by the U.S. Congress in October 2011. The two countries have been working to finalize a date for the implementation of the accord.
The free trade accord, known as the KORUS FTA, was supplemented in late 2010 with minor modifications that mostly dealt with the auto industry.
Two-way trade between South Korea and the U.S. reached some US$90 billion in 2010, according to the Seoul government.
The KORUS FTA will help the Asian country's economy expand more than 5 percent in the long term, as it will lead to more exports by reducing trade barriers, a study showed. The deal will also create about 350,000 jobs, helping to ease tightened labor market conditions here, according to the report compiled by 10 local think tanks.
The report predicted South Korea will see its trade surplus with the U.S. increase by $140 million annually over the next 15 years after the FTA goes into effect. The nation's total global trade surplus will expand by an annual average of $2.77 billion, the report forecast.
The scheduled implementation of the free trade pact will come amid growing calls from South Korea's opposition parties to renegotiate the trade pact, which they claim unfairly favors the U.S.
The main opposition Democratic United Party has vowed to scrap the pact if it wins in April's general elections, unless Washington agrees to hold renegotiations to revise some clauses.
South Korea has been accelerating its bid to expand its "economic territory" by signing free trade deals with major economies. A similar deal with the European Union went into effect in July.
Seoul is also seeking to sign free trade deals with neighboring countries such as Japan and China.