US assures auto sector on South Korea trade deal

US President Barack Obama will not submit a free-trade agreement with South Korea to Congress for a vote until Seoul does more to open its auto market, the top US trade official said.

"I know there is concern, especially in this part of the country, about the US-Korea FTA," US Trade Representative (USTR)?Ron Kirk said in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

"We have let Korea know that we will have to work together so we can show the American people that US cars will be able to compete on a level playing field in Korea," Kirk said.

The speech showed how little progress the administration has made toward resolving differences with South Korea since Obama took office about one year ago. One difficulty is persuading South Korea to change an agreement that many in its government doubt the US Congress will vote on "no matter what we do", Kirk told reporters.

"I'm confident that we can, through hard negotiations, come up with a fair and balanced agreement... but I'm not going to try to handicap whether that's the next six months, the end of this year, early next year," he said.

Obama has said he wants Congress to approve free-trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia and urged closer trade ties with all three in his State of the Union address.

Kirk's speech in Detroit, where opposition to the Korea agreement is strong, repeated many points he made in November to the US-Korea Business Council. He extolled the overall benefits of the trade deal and said there was added pressure to get it approved since the European Union has now struck its own free-trade deal with Seoul.

 

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