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US rejects side deal on labor costs for USFK workers

Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul's top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing talks, speaks to reporters before departing for LA at Incheon International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Yonhap)
Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul's top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing talks, speaks to reporters before departing for LA at Incheon International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

The US State Department reiterated Monday its earlier stance opposing a South Korean proposal to discuss labor costs for United States Forces Korea. If the two countries fail to reach an agreement in the ongoing defense cost-sharing talks, USFK’s Korean civilian employees are set to go on unpaid leave.

“A separate negotiation based solely on labor cost sharing would greatly detract from expeditiously concluding a mutually acceptable and comprehensive Special Measures Agreement,” the State Department told Voice of America.

Jeong Eun-bo, Korea’s top negotiator for the talks, had earlier said Seoul expected to engage in side negotiations with Washington specifically to address labor costs during their talks in Los Angeles from Tuesday to Wednesday.

“The expectation here is that a side agreement that covers the labor costs is not off the table for talks, if we go through a rough time finalizing an SMA,” Jeong told reporters before departing for LA.

Jeong initially suggested the side talks two weeks ago when the US military said it was notifying its workers of furloughs starting April 1. The US refused Jeong’s offer, insisting on a comprehensive SMA.

Korea and the US began their defense cost-sharing negotiations in September but have failed to reach an agreement due to differences over how much Seoul should contribute this year.

The US proposed that Korea pay about $5 billion, five times the current amount. The US has reportedly cut that figure down to $4 billion, but Korea is seeking to reduce it further.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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