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Big Business to Congress: Approve Stalled Trade Deals

Updated: July 15, 1:53 p.m.

Ahead of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to South Korea, large corporations such as Caterpillar, Citibank, Coca-Cola and General Electric are intensifying their lobbying efforts for a free-trade agreement with the United States’ long-standing Asian ally.

Along with the heads of other powerful American companies, executives from the four firms on Wednesday sent a letter to Obama, encouraging him to make good on a recent pledge to finalize a Korean trade deal by November, when he’ll travel for the next G-20 meeting.

The companies are members of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, an organization that lobbies for fewer restrictions in the international marketplace. The White House letter was also signed by executives of Cargill, IBM Corp, Intel Corp., McGraw-Hill Companies, Microsoft Corp., Seaboard Marine, Texas Instruments Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

“We applaud your export and jobs-growth initiatives and look forward to working with you and Congress on the passage of the pending agreements, starting with the Korea FTA, as well as other initiatives, that will help our nation open foreign markets, increase U.S. exports and maintain and grow new jobs in American,” reads the Wednesday letter, which was also sent to Congressional leaders.

At a recent G-20 summit in Toronto, Obama said he wanted lawmakers to ratify a trade deal with the country by this fall, an ambitious goal during a likely tough election year for his party. At a Wednesday press conference, the South Korean ambassador, Han Duck-soo, expressed confidence that the deal ultimately would be ratified but declined to provide a timeline.

“Our governments and our administrations will get this done,” Han told reporters on Wednesday.

Members of Congress also expressed urgency on Wednesday in finalizing the pact, arguing that it will be difficult to ever achieve the White House’s goal of doubling exports in the next five years without access to foreign markets by American companies. Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) called the pending trade agreement “pro-jobs,” telling reporters Wednesday that his experiences as mayor of Montgomery, Ala., where Korean car maker Hyundai has a facility, improved the local economy.

“We’ve become a global market, so we now have to put our actions where our mouth is,” Bright said. “We need to make this happen sooner rather than later.”

Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Henry Cueller (D-Texas) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) also appeared at Wednesday’s press event.

“There is wide popular support in Congress,” Polis told reporters.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama also pledged to revisit the Korea trade deal and other Bush administration-era proposals, unfinished deals that the current White House hopes will jump-start an U.S. ailing economy.

“We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,” Obama said. “If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.”

But without considerable changes to the current proposal, including expanded access for American carmakers and beef producers, Public Citizen Global Trade Watch’s Lori Wallach predicted that few Democrats would vote for it. Labor standards and rules for financial firms also must be sorted out, she said. And while many of the unresolved details are simple to fix, Wallach said the best chance for the White House to pass its newest priority is to start from scratch.

“They could start building the new model for trade agreements that President Obama promised during the campaign,” she said. “There are bunch of things to could be done without pain and suffering.”