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President Obama Calls For Renegotiation Of US/Korea FTA

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

President Barack Obama has directed U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to enter into a new round of negotiations with South Korea on a revised free trade agreement (FTA) that hopefully can lead to congressional ratification. The Bush administration concluded a FTA with South Korea in June 2007, but Congress has not been willing to ratify it in view of problems with market access for U.S. beef and automobiles and other considerations. U.S. textile manufacturers have been opposed to the agreement in view of the fact that South Korea has a large, efficient textile industry that poses a threat to them, and they see little in the way of increased access to the Korean market. While the current agreement has a yarn-forward rule of origin, U.S. manufacturers are concerned that it does not provide for effective Customs enforcement in view of what they say is a  "proven history" of both dumping and transshipments of goods from China, where Korean firms have extensive investments.

The existing agreement has been attacked by the United Auto Workers and U.S. auto manufacturers, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will demand more market access for U.S. beef exports.

Kirk said he welcomes Obama's direction to complete a FTA by the time the president visits South Korea in November, which, incidentally, will be after the elections.

Kirk said he has conducted extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and congressional leaders to gain a detailed understanding of their concerns. He promised that these discussions will continue throughout the upcoming consultations and negotiations with South Korea.

July 6, 2010