The Obama administration will soon present the pending free trade deal with South Korea to Congress for ratification, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.
"I hope that that agreement will be submitted soon and acted on soon by the Congress," Clinton told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I think it is very much in America's strategic and economic interests."
Clinton did not elaborate on the timeline, but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month that the Obama administration will present the revised Korea FTA to lawmakers within weeks 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.
Speaking to a forum here earlier in the day, Kirk said his office was still "moving through the process of submitting to Congress."
"We are operating on the Trade Promotion Authority, which is very prescriptive," he said. "We are following on that process. We are optimistic."
Seoul and Washington last month exchanged a supplemental agreement reached in December to address 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 phaseout 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 set to oppose the deal.
A group of 65 new Republican House members, meanwhile, sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama to support congressional approval of the pending free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
"We stand ready to work with you to ensure that new opportunities are created for our farmers, manufacturers, service providers and workers by passing the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea within the next six months," they said in the letter.
Among the signatories are Reps. Rick Berg (R-ND) and Diane Black (R-TN), members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which
will first deliberate the FTAs.
"Our three pending agreements have languished, while our partners have aggressively pursued negotiations that exclude the United States and put American workers at a competitive disadvantage," they said. "The time has come to put rhetoric into action."
Some congressional Republicans want to consider the Korea FTA
concurrently with similar deals with Colombia and Panama, but Kirk
has dismissed that as "a huge mistake."
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.
A group of former chief U.S. trade and other officials also sent a letter to Obama and congressional leaders to call for early congressional approval of the free trade deals with Colombia and Panama.
They include ex-USTR Susan Schwab, who signed the FTAs with South Korea, Colombia and Panama under the Bush administration.
Charlene Barshefsky and Mickey Kantor, who were the chief trade officials in the Clinton administration, also signed the letter.
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.
In a message to Congress attached to his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, Obama last week stressed the need for early ratification of the deal with South Korea as a means of creating jobs by doubling exports within five years.
In his State of the Union address last month, Obama also called on Congress to ratify the Korea FTA "as soon as possible," saying that will "support at least 70,000 American jobs."
The U.S. International Trade Commission has said the Korea FTA will help South Korea increase shipments to the U.S. by US$7 billion while enhancing U.S. exports to South Korea by $11 billion annually.
Some studies show the deal would increase annual two-way trade
by more than $20 billion.
The U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea was $10.6 billion
in 2009, down $2.8 billion from 2008.
<관련 한글 기사>
클린턴 "美의회, 한미FTA 조속 비준 기대"
(워싱턴=연합뉴스) 힐러리 클린턴 미국 국무부 장관은 2일 한.미 자유무역협정(FTA) 이행법안이 조속히 의회에 제출되고, 이를 의회가 신속히 처리하기를 기대한다고 밝혔다.
클린턴 장관은 이날 미 상원 외교위원회에 출석, "한.미FTA는 미국의 전략적, 경제적 이해관계를 위해 매우 필요하다"며 이같이 말했다.
클린턴 장관의 이런 답변은 짐 웹(민주.버지니아) 상원의원이 한반도의 지정학적, 경제적 중요성을 감안할 때 한.미FTA의 비준동의 필요성은 아무리 강조해도 지나침이 없다고 언급한 데 대해 전적인 공감을 표시하면서 나온 것이다.
웹 의원은 "동북아시아 지역은 중국, 러시아, 일본, 미국의 이해관계가 교차하는 유일한 지역"이라며 "그 한복판에 바로 분단된 한반도가 있다"며 한반도의 지정학적 중요성을 강조했다.
웹 의원은 "미국의 경제적 복지뿐아니라 역내 전략적 이해관계를 위해서도 신속 하게 한미FTA를 진전시킬 필요가 있다"고 밝혔다.