U.S., S. Korea, announce free-trade accord

Dec. 4, 2010 at 9:21 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Saturday said a free-trade agreement with South Korea would create 70,000 U.S. jobs and increase exports by $11 billion per year.

He said he was "very pleased" trade negotiators had wrapped up talks that began, technically, with the George W. Bush administration, which had left an accord on the table when the Obama administration took over.

U.S. and South Korean trade negotiators Friday said they had overcome the stumbling block of automobile imports and exports, one of the issues that caused the Bush era agreement to fail to find support in Congress.

The new agreement calls for the United States to phase out a 2.5 percent tariff on Korean automobiles during a five-year period.

South Korea will cut its tariff on U.S. vehicles from 8 percent to 4 percent immediately and phase its tariff out altogether over the next five years, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Much of the current debate centered on fuel-efficiency and safety standards in South Korea, which are stricter than U.S. requirements and were frequently interpreted as trade barriers.

South Korea agreed to exempt 75,000 U.S. autos per year from various standards -- 25,000 each from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford.

Currently, the U.S. imports 500,000 South Korean vehicles per year, while South Korea buys 6,000 U.S. vehicles.

Diplomats said the agreement was close, as the changes require a second attempt at ratification.

"A final announcement will be made after the delegations report outcomes to their respective governments for confirmation," the South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted South Korean trade representative Kim Jong-hoon as saying.

In Washington, the deal appears to have bipartisan support. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., called it a "big win for American employers and workers." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the deal, which is expected to create jobs and increase U.S. exports to the country's seventh-largest trading partner.

Ford Motor Co. said it would back the new deal, but Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he was "deeply disappointed," negotiators had not made more progress concerning U.S. beef exports to South Korea, which have been restricted since a 2003 break out of mad cow disease.

The agreement restricts U.S. beef exports to cows under 30 months old.

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