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Korean ambassador to talk free trade with Ford, Chrysler

Detroit News, USA

Korean ambassador to talk free trade with Ford, Chrysler

By David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

17 August 2010

Washington — The South Korean ambassador to the United States will meet with top executives at Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC on Wednesday during a day-long visit to Detroit to discuss a contentious free trade agreement.

South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo — a former prime minister of South Korea — will speak to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and address concerns raised by U.S. automakers about the long-stalled Korea Free Trade agreement.

The ambassador is also meeting with Hyundai Motor Co. officials in Michigan and will attend a dinner with auto executives at the Henry Ford Museum, said Eric Thomas, a spokesman for the Korean Embassy.


"He’s going to be talking about the auto issue. The Koreans are willing to listen. That’s why they are in Detroit. They want to hear what the car companies want to say," Thomas said, adding they are committed to making the agreement a "success" for both sides.

He said the meeting with the U.S. automakers will involve "high level" executives with Ford in Dearborn and with Chrysler in Auburn Hills.

Mike Manley, head of Chrysler’s International Operations, will meet with the ambassador. Chrysler said it "is encouraged by the Obama administration’s current negotiations to address the serious concerns the auto industry has expressed regarding the auto provisions as part of a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement."

"We understand that an open and growing trading system is the future of our company and of the U.S. economy, and support an enforceable agreement that provides meaningful market access for imported autos into Korea," the company said.

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the government would push for changes to make it easier for U.S. automakers to compete in Korea.

"We can’t accept — and I am not going to ask (automakers) to accept ... the inability to just go in and compete and let the Korean consumer decide just like the American consumer does," Kirk said.

Last month, President Barack Obama named Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally to his export council. Ford has been harshly critical, calling Korea one of the most "closed markets in the world to automotive imports."

The agreement, as it now stands, "isn’t sufficient to break down the barriers that the Koreans have put in place," said Stephen Biegun, Ford’s vice president of international governmental affairs, last month.

In April 2007, the Bush administration signed a free trade agreement with Korea, but it stalled in the United States, primarily over concerns about U.S. beef and auto exports.

Korea’s largest company, Hyundai, holds an 80 percent market share.

Obama, at the G-20 summit in Canada in June, said his administration will launch new talks with South Korea aimed at resolving those differences before he goes there in November; he wants to submit an agreement to Congress soon thereafter.

General Motors Co. has stayed neutral, because of its South Korean unit GM Daewoo, which is the fourth-largest automaker there.

Korean automakers sell 700,000 vehicles annually here, but U.S. automakers export fewer than 7,000 vehicles annually in Korea. In total, foreign imports account for just 5 percent of total sales in Korea.

But the Korean Embassy notes in a fact sheet that Daewoo — GM’s unit — sells 104,000 vehicles annually in Korea.

If you include those sales, U.S. companies sell 9 percent of all vehicles in Korea, versus Koreans selling 7 percent of vehicles in the United States.

But Korean companies exported nearly 200,000 vehicles to the United States in 2009, compared with 7,663 exported from the U.S. to Korea.

The White House says the new deal likely will be sent to Congress early next year.

Obama says a new pact will strengthen ties between the two countries, and may boost the export of American goods by as much as $11 billion a year.

Duk-soo also will meet with a newspaper editorial board.