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Obama: Korean Trade Agreement Finalized

President Barack Obama announced Friday that the United States and South Korea have reached an agreement on a revised trade deal that he hopes will clear the path for Congressional approval in the coming months.

“I am very pleased that the United States and South Korea have reached agreement on a landmark trade deal,” Obama said.

The White House released documents Friday promoting the pact, saying it would create tens of thousands of jobs, generate an additional $11 billion in U.S. exports, provide new opportunities for U.S. manufacturers by eliminating tariffs, tighten Korean environmental standards for automobiles and make progress in implementing a protocol on beef exports.

Obama failed during a trip to Asia last month to reach a deal on the agreement, which is one of three pending trade deals left over from the Bush administration. White House officials said Friday that negotiations over the past few weeks addressed key concerns relating to the automotive sector and beef exports.

“It is a strong, balanced package. It is a win-win, both for Koreans and for Americans,” a senior administration official said during a conference call with reporters. “We think it’s especially a win, perhaps even a historic win, for American trade policy because we think we’ve put together a package that business, labor, Democrats and Republicans can feel comfortable in supporting.”

Asked about the timing of Congressional action on the pact, the official said the “expectation is to bring it forward as soon as we can.” The official said that administration officials began calling lawmakers Friday morning to let them know of the deal and that the response so far has been “very positive.”

Trade is one area where the president can expect to find bipartisan support in Congress. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the Korean pact is “an important step for our economy and for getting people back to work,” and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the deal “helps strengthen our ties to a dependable democratic ally that fosters prosperity and stability in Asia and enhances our economic and national security.”

Leaders of the 69-member New Democrat Coalition, which supports business interests, hailed the agreement for giving American exporters access to millions of new customers.

“We applaud the significant step taken today to expand export opportunities for U.S. companies and cut down the trade barriers imposed on our automakers,” reads a statement by Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), the coalition’s chairman; Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), a coalition vice chairman; and Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), a coalition member.

Auto manufacturers and trade interest groups also lined up to praise the president for finalizing the agreement.

“These new provisions provide Ford greater confidence that we will be able to better serve our Korean customers,” Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally said. “We deeply appreciate the tireless efforts of the Obama administration.”

National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch said the trade agreement “has long been a policy priority of the U.S. business community, and the NFTC commends U.S. and Korean negotiators’ commitment to resolving market access issues with respect to autos.”

But not everyone is happy with the news that Obama is moving forward with a Bush-era trade pact.

Rep. Mike Michaud, who chairs the House Trade Working Group and is seeking an overhaul of U.S. trade policy, said he had “hoped for more from this White House, which campaigned on a need to change the way we negotiate trade agreements so that they truly benefit American workers and businesses. The deal reached today, while beneficial to the auto industry, falls far short of that goal.”

When the pact comes to the floor for a vote, the Maine Democrat said, “I will work with allies on Capitol Hill to do whatever I can to defeat it.”

Leaders of public interest groups also framed the trade deal as a major political and policy mistake.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and GOP congressional leaders must be gleeful that they are getting the Obama administration to take ownership of another Bush NAFTA-style trade deal that would simultaneously favor their job offshoring agenda and put Obama’s re-election in peril,” Lori Wallach of Public Citizen said.

Wallach also held the president to his campaign promises on a trade overhaul and said “merely tweaking the ‘cars and cows’ market access provisions” of the agreement will not help Americans in the long run.

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