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Obama Soon to Submit Korea FTA to Congress Ahead of Deals with Colombia, Panama
Against pressure from Congress, the Obama administration on March 15 vowed to submit a pending free trade deal with South Korea soon and take time to address outstanding issues with similar deals with Panama and Colombia.

"I think as the president has said, he, too, would like to get all three agreements passed once we've addressed the outstanding issues associated with them," Mike Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, told reporters. "Korea, we addressed those outstanding issues at the end of last year, achieved greater market access and a greater balance in the agreement and are now ready to submit that to Congress."

Froman's remarks come just one day after a group of 44 Republican senators threatened to block Obama's nominations of a replacement of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to China, and other trade-related officials unless Obama sends to Congress the Korea FTA and two other deals with Colombia and Panama together.

In December, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk met here with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-hoon, to produce a supplemental agreement addressing U.S. concerns over lopsided auto trade, the biggest hurdle to getting congressional approval of the Korea FTA since it was signed in 2007 under the Bush administration.

The revised deal calls for a delayed phase-out of auto tariffs, among other things, in return for Washington's concessions on pork and medicine.

The South Korean National Assembly is waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the Korea FTA first to facilitate its ratification in South Korea, where the liberal major opposition party is poised to oppose the pact due to its possible adverse impact on the South Korean agricultural industry.

"I think doing what he did with regard to the Korea free trade agreement at the end of last year was an important signal that he wanted to get the trade agreement done but wasn't willing to accept just any agreement, that it had to meet certain standards, and therefore, turning it down in Seoul and working on it for another few weeks back here allowed him to move forward with that," Froman said. "What he's done with Colombia and Panama in directing Ambassador Kirk and his team to enhance their engagement with Colombia and Panama to resolve the outstanding issues as quickly as possible this year and to submit it to Congress immediately thereafter, that is showing leadership."

Froman was echoing Kirk, who expressed his intention last week to submit the Korea FTA first, although he said that he will try to resolve the remaining issues on the deals with Colombia and Panama "as quickly as possible this year" so the Obama administration could submit them to Congress immediately thereafter.

The USTR is still negotiating with Panama and Colombia over labor rights, alleged abuse of union leaders and some other issues so that they do not hinder the deals' passage through Congress.

Kirk at that time called on Congress to begin discussions with his office for the Korea FTA's ratification "without delay."

The top U.S. trade official said on Feb. 9 that the Obama administration will present the Korea FTA to Congress within a month with the hope that Congress approves it "this spring" so as not to lag behind the European Union, which ratified a similar deal with Seoul set to take effect in July.

"We shouldn't wait on Panama and Colombia," Kirk said last week. "We think the wiser course of action, since Korea is ready, is for us to move forward. It's important that we not lose share in Korea. Korea is more economically compelling than the last nine free trade agreements the United States has done combined."

The Korea FTA was negotiated under the Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, which requires Congress to vote yes or no without any amendments within 90 days of the deal's submission.

Obama expects the Korea FTA to further his ambitious goal of doubling exports within five years as a means of creating jobs as the world's biggest economy struggles to escape the recession that began in late 2008, the worst in decades.

In his State of the Union address last month, Obama called on Congress to ratify the Korea FTA "as soon as possible," saying it will "support at least 70,000 American jobs."

The U.S. International Trade Commission says the deal would increase annual two-way trade by more than $20 billion.
(Yonhap News)






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