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Kirk Repeats Call on Congress to Move Quickly for Korea FTA's Ratification
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The Obama administration Wednesday repeated calls on Congress to move immediately to ratify the pending trade deal with South Korea, saying similar deals with Colombia and Panama will be ready in weeks.


   Some leading Republicans have threatened to block President Barack Obama's nomination for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's replacement unless Obama sends to Congress the Korea FTA together with the deals with Colombia and Panama. Locke has been appointed U.S. ambassador to China.


   "Korea is ready to go now, as we have said," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Annual Trade Symposium here. "The Colombia trade agreement could be ready in a matter of weeks. And we expect the same to be true for Panama."


   Washington reached a new deal with Bogota early this month on labor rights, which have served as a stumbling block to the deal's congressional approval since its signing in 2007.


   The Obama administration also made progress recently in labor rights and the exchange of tax information with Panama to pave the way for the ratification of that pact.


   The Obama administration wants Congress to approve the Korea deal "this spring" so as not to lag behind the European Union, which ratified a similar deal with Seoul set to take effect in July.


   Kirk took note of a supplemental deal Washington reached with Seoul in December that "successfully negotiated new commitments from Korea that will provide additional market access and a level playing field for American auto manufacturers and workers exporting to Korea."


   The revised deal addresses U.S. concerns over lopsided auto trade, the biggest hurdle to congressional approval, calling for a delayed phase-out of auto tariffs in return for Washington's concessions on pork and medicine.


   The Korea deal "is the most commercially significant trade agreement the United States has concluded in more than 17 years," Kirk said. "For goods trade alone, the U.S.-Korea trade agreement is estimated to increase exports to Korea by $11 billion -- and that total could support at least 70,000 additional U.S. jobs."


   The Korea FTA was negotiated under the Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, which requires Congress to vote yes or no without amendments within 90 days of the deal's submission.


   The South Korean National Assembly is waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the Korea FTA first to facilitate its ratification in South Korea, where the liberal major opposition party fears an adverse impact on the agricultural industry.


Source:  Yonhap News (April 13, 2011)

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