President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told their respective citizens at a press conference in Seoul Thursday that there's nothing to fear in a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement beyond improved relations and economic conditions.
"American companies and workers are very confident in our ability to compete," Obama said alongside Lee. "And we recognize that there is not only an economic, but a strategic interest in expanding our ties to South Korea."
The 2007 trade pact has languished on Capitol Hill over concerns it would exacerbate trade imbalances between the U.S. and South Korea and unfairly punish U.S. automakers who see impediments in getting their vehicles access to the South Korean market.
"Korea is the most vivid example of a one-way street," Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) the Chairman of the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee laments. "If the executive branch won't stand up for the domestic automobile industry on the worst of a one-way street, then it won't stand up for the auto industry on anything."
But President Lee said critics are already starting from a point of misinformation, "In the United States, I think there is a misperception that the [U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement], once it is passed-- it is somehow only going to benefit Korea and be detrimental to American consumers, which is not true."
Lee addressed the concerns of both autoworkers unions and auto companies head-on, "If there is (sic) any problems in the automotive sector…then we are ready to resolve this issue."
If ratified, the trade deal would be the largest free trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994.
Though he wasn't able to seal the deal before his meetings with Lee, President Obama is still optimistic over its fate on the Hill. He told Fox's Major Garrett in a sit-down interview that he's pushing for ratification at some point in 2010. "Well, the question is whether we can get it done in the beginning of 2010, whether we can get it done at the end of 2010 -- there's still some details that need to be worked out," he said.
He added that he sympathizes with the critics. "Overall, I think it's a potential good deal for U.S. exporters. But there's certain sectors of the economy that aren't dealt with as affectively and that's something that I'm going to be talking to talking to President Lee about."