The Bush administration is teaming up with business leaders in a campaign to save in Congress the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. The trade deal is opposed by majority Democrats in Congress. VOA's Barry Wood has more.
Convinced that the free trade accord with South Korea will create U.S. jobs and boost exports, the U.S. business community is mobilizing to push the agreement through a skeptical Congress.
Deputy Trade Representative Karan Bhatia says the agreement is too important to be allowed to fail.
"Which is not to say that we can afford to rest on our laurels," he said. "We have a long, hard process of education ahead of us. Congress must understand what this agreement is all about."
Bhatia participated in a Washington forum Thursday sponsored by business groups in favor of expanded trade.
The trade agreement, which was signed by both governments, but must be ratified by the legislatures to take effect, would reduce bilateral tariffs, boosting trade flows between South Korea and the United States.
The accord is opposed by U.S. trade unions and two auto companies (Ford and Daimler Chrysler) dissatisfied that the Korean auto sector would remain largely protected from imports. But Korean markets for agricultural products and most industrial goods would be dramatically opened.
Nick Giordano represents American pork producers.
"Nearly $2 billion of American farm exports to Korea will become immediately duty-free upon the entry into force of the agreement," he said. "Most remaining tariffs and quotas will be phased out over the first 10 years of the agreement. This is the best agreement ever."
Even with high tariffs, South Korea is America's sixth largest trading partner and a major market for agricultural goods and services.
Selina Jackson of United Parcel Service (UPS) says the accord would reduce by 25 percent the time American package shipments are held in South Korean customs. If the agreement fails, she says, American influence in Asia will be diminished while Chinese competitors gain.
"I'll tell what you do about China, you pass the US-Korea free trade agreement. Because that is going to strengthen the US competitive position in the region," she said.
The Bush administration has seen its pro-free trade stance weakened since opposition Democrats won majorities in both houses of Congress last November. No one would speculate on when the Korea free trade agreement will come to a vote or how that vote will turn out.