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Obama likely to submit Korea FTA to Congress soon: Amb. Han

 ATLANTA (Yonhap) -- South Korean ambassador Han Duck-soo on Saturday expressed his expectations that the Obama administration will soon present the free trade deal with South Korea to Congress for its ratification by the end of June.

"I expect the Obama administration will submit the Korea-U.S. FTA to Congress sooner or later so Congress can approve it by the end of June," Han told a forum here hosted by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). "More than 900 American enterprises and business organizations support the Korea FTA, and we thank the AFBF and other agricultural organizations for their support."

Industry sources expect Obama will present the deal revised early last month to Congress later this month.

The new deal calls for a delayed phaseout of auto tariffs, among others, in return for Washington's concessions on pork and medicine.

 Obama has said he will send the deal to Congress early this year, hoping the deal with South Korea, the seventh biggest trading partner for the U.S., will help achieve his ambitious goal of doubling exports within five years.

 Han said the implementation of the deal will create 70,000 jobs in the U.S., citing statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department.

  The envoy also cited figures by the U.S. International Trade Commission that shows 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 that 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.

   Free trade is seen as one of the potential areas of close cooperation between Obama and congressional Republicans, who regained control of the House in the midterm elections in November.

   Many congressional Democrats, backed by trade unions, oppose free trade due to fears over further job cuts.

   Failure to present the deal to Congress by early this year would likely doom it, as Republicans vow to focus on domestic issues, including taxes and a reversal of Obama's health care reform policy, ahead of the presidential election in 2012.

   Han expected that the deal's effectuation will help increase shipments of U.S. beef, pork and poultry by $2.1 billion annually to create more than 27,000 jobs in the U.S. meat industry.

   He dismissed concerns that the U.S. demand for wider access to the South Korean beef market would serve as a stumbling block to the Korea FTA's ratification.

   "Beef from cattle over 30 months old accounts for just 3 percent of all U.S. beef exports," he said, noting that U.S. beef exports to South Korea have surged dramatically and made up 37 percent of all beef imports, the second biggest after Australia, in 2009.

   South Korea bans shipments of beef from cattle over 30 months old due to fears of mad cow disease, which prompted weeks of street rallies against U.S. beef in Seoul in 2008.

   Beef is not an issue covered by the Korea FTA, but Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) has threatened to not move the FTA forward unless Seoul allows shipments of beef from cattle of all ages.

Montana is said to be the biggest source of beef from older cattle.

Baucus said he was "deeply disappointed" by the revised deal Seoul and Washington struck early last month, saying it "fails to address Korea's significant barriers to American beef exports."

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month he will continue to work to seek support from Baucus, although he noted the deal is not just about beef but about automobiles and all other products.

The chief U.S. trade negotiator has also said he will continue to push for wider access to the South Korean beef market.


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