Obama backs FTA during Q&A with GOP

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Obama backs FTA during Q&A with GOP


U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio as House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia looks on at right, after Obama took questions from Republican lawmakers at the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore, Maryland on Friday (U.S. time). [AP]

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama emphasized the need to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement during a talk at the House of Representatives Republican retreat in Baltimore, Maryland last Friday (U.S. time), following a similar remark during his first State of the Union address two days earlier.

“Korea is a great ally of ours .?.?. There is no country that is more committed to friendship on a whole range of fronts than South Korea,” Obama told the Republicans. “What is also true is that the European Union is about to sign a trade agreement with South Korea. Which means right at the moment when they start opening up their markets, the Europeans might get in there before we do.”

Obama made his comments while answering a question regarding job creation within the U.S. and the future of trade deals with countries such as Korea.

During his State of the Union address, Obama pledged to increase trade relations with countries including South Korea, Colombia and Panama in order to boost job creation and further fuel economic recovery in the U.S. The three countries have agreed to FTA agreements with the U.S. but are waiting for ratification from legislatures.

“If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores .?.?.We will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama and Colombia,” Obama said, adding that he will be firm on “enforcing those agreements [FTAs] so our trading partners play by the rules.”

The Korea-U.S. FTA deal has been long pending at the legislatures of both countries since it was signed in June 2007, after numerous rounds of talks. The two contingent issues for the U.S. government have been trade terms regarding automobiles and beef, on which they are pushing for renegotiations.

In fact, the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the automobile trade terms in the FTA agreement with Korea is unfair and lopsided.

Obama last year said that “the U.S. can only get 4,000 to 5,000 [cars] into South Korea” while Korean auto companies are sending “hundreds of thousands of cars” in the U.S. Along with this, the U.S. auto industry and its respective labor unions have strongly protested the deal.

“There is a bad history in the automobile market in Korea with practices that have excluded foreign automakers,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said last week during a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Meanwhile in recent months, the Obama administration has been expressing the need to work toward finalizing the deal, which could help revive the U.S. economy. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in front of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee earlier this month that “we [the U.S.] will continue to work with the Congress, stakeholders, and the Republic of Korea to work through the outstanding issues of concern so we can move forward on our bilateral free trade agreement.”

Obama’s determination on improving trade relations seemed firm during his State of the Union address. “We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America,” he said.

By Choi Sang-yeon, Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

필요하면 ‘적진’도 간다. 민주당 소속 오바마 대통령 공화당 의원 연수 이례적 참석

버락 오바마 미국 대통령이 지난달 29일(현지시간) 한·미 자유무역협정(FTA)의 비준 필요성을 또다시 강조했다. 새해 국정연설에 이어 이틀 만이다. 이번엔 강도를 높였다. 그는 “FTA 비준을 계속 미룰 경우 미국 기업이 대가를 치를 수 있다”고 지적했다. 볼티모어에서 열린 공화당 하원의원 정책연수회의에 참석해 FTA 관련 질문을 받고 이같이 답했다. 이어 “유럽연합(EU)이 한국과 FTA를 체결하려 해 미국에 앞서 한국 시장을 선점할 가능성이 있다”며 “미국은 기회를 잡아야만 하며 나로선 올해 무역 문제에 관해 좀 더 많은 얘기를 할 것”이라고 강조했다.

◆미 정부, 여전히 “재협상 필요”=이 같은 발언은 한·미 FTA와 관련된 발언으론 가장 수위가 높은 것이다. 이틀 전 국정연설에서도 그는 “한국·콜롬비아·파나마와 무역 관계를 강화해야 한다”고 지적했다. 이들 3개국은 미 행정부가 FTA를 체결했지만 의회 비준이 미뤄지고 있는 국가다.

이 같은 발언만 놓고 보면 한·미 FTA 비준 문제가 오바마의 관심사라는 점은 분명하다. 그러나 오바마는 추진 일정 등 구체적 언급은 피했다. 다만 “무역은 일방적이 아닌 상호적 방향으로 진행돼야 한다는 점을 미국민 전체에게 주지시켜야 무역협정을 진전시킬 수 있다”고 덧붙였다. 게다가 한국과는 자동차와 쇠고기 분야의 재협상이 있어야 FTA 비준을 의회에 요청할 수 있다는 게 미 행정부의 입장이어서 비준까지는 앞길이 험난하다. 실제로 드미트리어스 마란티스 미 무역대표부(USTR) 부대표는 28일 “한·미 FTA 비준은 자동차와 쇠고기 이슈가 현안으로 남아 있다”며 “한국에는 오랫동안 외국 자동차를 배제해 온 나쁜 관행이 남아 있다”고 주장했다. 커트 캠벨 국무부 동아태 차관보는 한국 특파원들과 만나 “미 국내 정치 상황을 고려할 때 한·미 FTA에 관해서는 한국이 인내심을 가질 필요가 있다”고 말했다. 그런 탓에 전문가들 사이에선 “11월 중간선거에 적신호가 켜진 상황에서 반대가 많은 연내 비준을 오바마가 추진하기는 어려울 것”이란 전망도 나온다.

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