A proposed free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea is still facing opposition from some members of Congress. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Objections center on concerns it will hurt rather than help U.S. consumers, and worries that goods manufactured in North Korea could end up entering the United States at some point.
House Democrats assert that the deal could allow goods manufactured in the North Korean Kaesong industrial complex run jointly with South Korea, to be incorporated into products that could enter the United States.
In a hearing of the House subcommittee on trade, critics such as California Democrat Brad Sherman said the agreement raises the possibility that products in any region in North Korea designated as a special processing zone and granted a form of sovereignty could be admitted under the deal.
However, Republican Ed Royce, and one of two Bush administration witnesses, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia, defended the agreement which contains a provision for a panel to make recommendations on such goods.
Bhatia said a successful deal will help the U.S. remain an active economic presence in East Asia which accounts for 29 percent of U.S. exports, while laying the groundwork for further trade liberalization in the region.
"The comprehensive trade agreement would eliminate tariffs, and other barriers to trade in goods and services, open South Korea's agricultural market, promote economic growth in both countries and strengthen ties between the U.S. and South Korea," she said.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Christopher Hill said the impact of the free trade deal will go far beyond bilateral commercial trade benefits, as a symbol of the strong U.S.-South Korean security alliance.
A group of House Democrats along with U.S. and some South Korean labor leaders gathered outside the Capitol to urge congressional rejection of the trade deal.
Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, a state hit with job losses to overseas textile manufacturing, says the deal will worsen the U.S. trade deficit.
"To protect American sovereignty, American security, and American jobs, if the president sends Congress a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, Congress must defeat it, must defeat it," he said.
Jeff Vogt of the AFL-CIO, the largest trade confederation in the U.S., says while it does not oppose expanding trade with Korea an agreement must promote the interests of working people and benefit the economies of both countries.
"In its rush to conclude an agreement before the expiration of trade promotion authority, USTR shortchanged concerns for the economic future of workers in the U.S. and Korea. Negotiations with one of our largest trading partners should have been handled with much greater degree of deliberation and consultation with civil society and Congress, both of which made it clear that another trade agreement based on the failed NAFTA model is unacceptable," he said.
The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement has also become an issue in the 2008 U.S. presidential race.
Speaking in the auto-making center of Detroit recently, Senator Hillary Clinton, considered a front-runner among Democrats, called the pact inherently unfair saying it does not go far enough in bringing down South Korean barriers to U.S. car exports.
A South Korean trade official said Wednesday that Seoul will not accept any proposal to renegotiate automobile provisions in the deal, which must be ratified by the U.S. Congress and South Korea's legislature.