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South Korea pledges sharp carbon cuts

In Seoul, Obama announces bilateral talks to break the nuclear deadlock with Pyongyang, and supports ratification of the free trade agreement. In advance of the Copenhagen climate summit, South Korea commits to reducing greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2020. The high court rules unconstitutional a sex-for-marriage agreement ban. The country's export rank jumps from 12th to 9th in the world. And mandatory military service could be cut back.

Top News: United State President Barack Obama announced during his trip to South Korea that America’s nuclear special envoy will visit Pyongyang Dec. 8 for bilateral talks with North Korea in an effort to resolve the current deadlock in nuclear talks.


President Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak also said after holding a summit meeting that both countries are committed to ratifying the free trade agreement signed almost two years ago. The Korea-U.S. FTA needs ratification from lawmakers in both countries, but neither has done so.


South Korea pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2020, an ambitious goal that the president called a landmark decision. The Lee Myung-bak administration revealed its plan ahead of a climate change conference in Copenhagen, and said the country will strive to become a bridge between developing and advanced countries by voluntarily setting an emission target.


The country released 591.1 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, becoming the 16th highest emitting countries in the world. The Lee Myung-bak administration has placed an emphasis on green growth and has a special green growth committee dedicated to nation-wide projects such as creating more bicycle paths and developing a power smart grid to save electricity.  


The country’s Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional a law that bans men from having sexual relations with women under the promise of marrying them, saying it invades the rights of men’s sexual behavior and privacy. Six out of nine judges upheld the ruling while three opposed to it. 


Under the old law, men who promised to tie knots with women and used that promise to have sex, if convicted, could face up to two years in prison or a fine of over $4,000. This law was considered outdated and was thought to reflect conservative Confucian values that once dominated society. South Korea has been known to be a sexually conservative country, where people often look down at women who have had a physical relationship with a man before getting married.


The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning North Korea for its serious human rights abuses reported as systematic, widespread and grave. Among sponsors of the resolution that raised concern about the practice of torture, detention in inhumane conditions, public execution and more were the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union. The North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.N. called the allegations a political conspiracy and dismissed the resolution.


Money: South Korea ranked ninth in exports in the world through the third quarter after breaking into the top 10 for the first time this year, after no. 12 in 2008 annual exports.


The country exported worth $206.1 billion in nine months this year and is expected to stay in the top 10 list by the end of this year. South Korea is one of the three only countries that have broken into the ten largest exporters since 1950 along with China and Japan.


U.S. beef sales in the country have continued to decline since large-scale South Korean discount stores resumed sales a year ago. One of the largest discount stores E-Mart announced that sales had dropped to 500 tons of beef a year. U.S. beef lost popularity after fears rose high on mad cow disease that was discovered in American beef.


Elsewhere: The military draft in South Korea for men could be reduced by three months in the future instead of a six-month cutback that was pushed for in the past. The Ministry of National Defense had considered reducing the regular 24-month service in the Army by six months but said in report that the three month reduction would alleviate concern about weaker combat power while staying prepared for the additional need for troops that might occur during its defense reform plans scheduled for 2020.