South Korea, U.S. Sign Free Trade Agreement

Saturday, June 30th 2007, 3:16 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States and South Korea signed a free-trade agreement Saturday that reflected U.S. calls for stricter labor and environmental standards.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab signed the agreement in Washington, meeting a deadline under President Bush's expiring special trade powers.

That ``fast track'' authority prevents lawmakers from amending the deal before voting on it. The trade deal still needs to be approved by lawmakers in both countries to take effect.

Bush said Saturday that the Korean agreement would generate exports for U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service suppliers. He urged Congress to ratify the agreement.

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups applauded the agreement, it faces opposition in Congress. House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, say they will not support the agreement as negotiated.

The agreement would eliminate and lower tariffs and other trade barriers in a wide range of industrial goods and services, including automobiles, agricultural products and financial services.

South Korea also agreed to change its tax system for larger vehicles, which the U.S. contended was discriminatory. South Korea currently sells more than 700,000 vehicles a year in the United States, while U.S. makers sell about 5,000 in South Korea.

South Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trade partner. Bilateral trade between the two countries last year reached $78 billion.

The two countries concluded the free-trade agreement in April after 10 months of tough negotiations, only to have it hung up over last-minute amendments requested by Washington. The amendments incorporate stricter labor and environmental guidelines set by the new Democratic majority in Congress for free trade deals.

The U.S. also concluded free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and Peru ahead of Saturday's deadline.