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Obama pledge boosts KORUS FTA

The stalled Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is again gaining momentum with U.S. President Barack Obama setting a November deadline for reworking the accord.

Speaking after meeting with President Lee Myung-bak in Toronto on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, Obama said that the accord will be modified to meet the demands of lawmakers opposing the deal before the November G20 Summit in Seoul.

The U.S. president also said that the modified accord will be submitted to the Congress within a few months of meetings held during the G20 summit in November.

“It is the right thing to do for our country, it is the right thing to do for Korea. It will strengthen our commercial ties and it will create enormous economic benefits to create jobs in the U.S.,” Obama was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s estimates, failing to enact the trade deal with Korea will cost the United States $35 billion in lost exports and 345,000 jobs.

In addition, Obama also instructed United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk to open working-level talks with Korea before leaving for the G20 Summit.

“This is the first time President Obama instructed the USTR to carry out working-level talks, and set a timeline and stated that (the accord) will be submitted to the Congress,” Korean Minister of Trade Kim Jong-hoon said at a press briefing following the meeting between Lee and Obama. He added that Obama made it clear that the talks will not be aimed at renegotiations but “adjustment” of the trade pact.

“In general, President Obama put forward suggestions that are more detailed and stronger than last year.”

While no dates for the working-level talks have been made known, local experts are speculating that the process will begin no later than a month from now, as only four months remain before the G30 Summit in Seoul.

The trade pact between South Korea and the United States was signed in April 2007, but its ratification has been put on hold due to objections over automotive and beef trading issues.

The FTA had run into trouble with the United States’ automotive industry that claim that removing tariffs on vehicles imported from Korea will be detrimental to its interests.

If the FTA is implemented, the 8 percent tax placed on U.S. vehicles by Korea and the 2.5 percent tariff placed on smaller Korean-made cars will be removed immediately. The tariff placed on Korean vehicles with engines displacements larger than 3,000 cubic centimeters will be removed after three years.

The trade pact has also been resisted by some Korean organizations, one of whose main points is a claim that U.S. beef is linked to BSE or mad cow disease. Several Korean labor unions also oppose the deal.

By Choi He-suk  (