The free-trade agreement with South Korea is again struggling for life, according to a Washington Post report. The agreement would be the most significant free-trade pact signed by the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada was approved in the mid-1990s.

The latest supporter is South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, who has assumed the unusual role of a foreign official promoting U.S. jobs. "This is an opportunity to stimulate the U.S. economy at no cost to U.S. taxpayers,” he says.

The agreement with South Korea has been stalled in the U.S. Congress awaiting approval since 2007. Without the trade pact, the U.S. pork industry stands to lose an export market critical to the success of U.S. pork producers. According to Dermott Hayes, Iowa State University economist, U.S. pork exports could eventually reach $870 million per year. Current levels are about $215 million per year.

With the Obama administration pledging a major new push to ratify the agreement, Han has gone on the stump in cities such as Montgomery, Ala., Peoria, Ill., and Detroit to build American support for free trade and allay concerns that his country is trying to snatch U.S. manufacturing jobs.

"I'd like to see more Ford and General Motors cars in Seoul," said Han, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran Korean minister.

Trade officials from both countries are trying to resolve the problems that have kept the trade agreement with South Korea bottled up, including a dispute over U.S. access to the South Korean auto market and restrictions on U.S. beef imposed after the mad cow scare several years ago. The agreement would eventually eliminate tariffs between the two countries.

Because those levies are typically higher on the South Korean side, administration officials estimate the deal could mean more than $10 billion annually in increased U.S. exports to Seoul and tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs. South Koreans say they would benefit from lower prices. Some tariffs on food imports from the U.S. are as high as 40 percent.

U.S. opponents of the agreement argue it doesn't do enough to benefit American industry, even as it gives South Korean businesses greater rights in the United States.

President Obama has placed a priority on export promotion, calling it a key to job growth, and embraced the agreement with South Korea as a opportunity to weigh in on the broader debate over trade policy and advance U.S. interests.

U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk, whose job more typically involves overseas negotiations, has mounted a domestic lobbying effort, visiting cities and districts hit hard by the recession to argue that "when you do trade right, America can win."

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Source: Washington Post