Lawmakers demand ’major changes’ to US-S.Korea trade deal

AFP | 23 July 2010

Lawmakers demand ’major changes’ to US-S.Korea trade deal

WASHINGTON — More than 100 US lawmakers wrote to President Barack Obama Thursday demanding "major changes" to a landmark free trade agreement with South Korea, which they called a "job killing" pact.

Obama wants to finalize the deal before a Group of 20 summit in Seoul this November so that he can present it to Congress in the few months thereafter, despite concerns from US cattlemen and carmakers.

But 109 legislators from Obama’s Democratic party in the House of Representatives sent a joint letter to him, seeking talks with the president to address opposition to specific provisions of the FTA in the financial services, investment and labor chapters.

They also "strongly object" to the non-tariff barriers to the Korean market that they said numerous US industries, including the auto, beef and textile sectors, faced.

"At a time when our economy is struggling to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, it is unthinkable to consider moving forward with another job-killing FTA," the lawmakers said.

In addition, they said, implementing the FTA "without major changes will exacerbate the US trade deficit (and) further erode the US manufacturing base."

The pact is "simply out of touch with what the overwhelming majority of American people want," they said.

The US-South Korea FTA was signed between in June 2007 during the administration of Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama had earlier voiced concerns about market access problems related American beef and autos.

Neither country has ratified the deal, which would be the largest for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, which came into force in 1994.

South Korea said in late June that it would reopen talks soon on the FTA but it rejected complaints it unfairly restricted US beef and auto exports.

South Korea shipped about 700,000 cars to the United States in 2007 while just 5,000 moved in the opposite direction, official figures show.

Analysts in Seoul say the figures exclude more than 125,000 vehicles made by a General Motors subsidiary in Korea while including vehicles made by a Hyundai plant in Alabama.

The free trade deal has also stirred some controversy in South Korea due to public fears over the safety of US beef.

Despite angry protests from farmers and activists, South Korea in 2008 agreed to ease restrictions imposed over fears of mad cow diseases and to resume imports of beef from US cattle aged less than 30 months.

source: AFP