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U.S. Businesses Call for Early Ratification of Korea FTA
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A leading U.S. business lobby Monday called for early congressional approval of the pending free trade deal with South Korea to prop up exports and jobs.


   "The Korea FTA is a no-cost way to create jobs and grow the economy," Tami Overby, vice president for Asia affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a gathering of local government and business leaders in Orlando, Florida, according to a statement released by the chamber. "The way to meet the goal of doubling exports over the next five years is by passing this agreement."


   U.S. President Barack Obama has said the Korea FTA will help double U.S. exports within five years as a means of creating jobs as the world's biggest economy struggles to escape the recession that began in late 2008, the worst in decades.


   In his recent State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to ratify the Korea FTA "as soon as possible," saying it will "support at least 70,000 American jobs."


   The U.S. International Trade Commission says the deal would increase annual two-way trade by more than $20 billion.


   The Obama administration has yet to present the deal to Congress as some congressmen want similar deals with Colombia and Panama to be considered along with the Korea FTA.


   "The U.S. Chamber has long called for action on the pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea," Overby said. "If Congress does act and passes the Korea FTA, a congressional study shows that it will benefit the Florida economy and create 280,000 new jobs nationwide."


   U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk 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.


   Kirk has said he will submit the Korea FTA first, calling on Congress to approve the pact "this spring" so as not to lag behind the European Union, which ratified a similar deal with Seoul set to take effect in July.


   Jay Carney, White House press secretary, last week dismissed as "political games" the threat by Republican senators to block Obama's nominations of a replacement of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and other trade-related officials unless Obama sends to Congress the Korea FTA and two other deals together. Locke was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to China.


   Carney said that the Obama administration needs more time to address outstanding issues with Colombia and Panama before bringing the deals to Congress for approval.


   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 related move, Lee Jae-oh, South Korean minister in charge of political affairs, met with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, at the latter's office here earlier in the day to seek support for the early ratification of the Korea FTA.


   "U.S. Congress is generally favorable to the Korea FTA and I think the Korea FTA's ratification will help promote interests of the sides," Sen. Lieberman said, according to a statement released by Lee's office.


   Lee, for himself, stressed "the importance of the role of the Korea FTA in enhancing not only economic benefits of the two countries but also the Korea-U.S. alliance," the statement said.


Source: Yonhap News (March 28, 2011)

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