South Korea President Urges Swift Passage of U.S. Trade Pact

The agreement, which would remove 95% of tariffs between the two economies, is up for a full House vote this week.

President Lee Myung-Bak urged South Korea's parliament to ratify a major free-trade agreement with the United States, saying the U.S. Congress is poised to approve it.

"More than anything else, ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA is an issue that should be dealt with urgently," Lee said in a budget speech read by his prime minister.

The appeal came a day before Lee departs for Washington to hold talks with President Obama that are expected to focus on the agreement.

Lee said the pact would make South Korea the only nation that has free-trade accords with three major world economic blocs -- the United States, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"The U.S. Congress is expected to complete its ratification soon and I ask our parliament to act on it early in consideration of national interests," he said.

Last week, a key U.S. House of Representatives committee easily approved the stalled deal. The accord is expected to face a full House vote this week.

The deal, signed in 2007 but later renegotiated, was presented to a parliamentary committee in Seoul last month, but opposition lawmakers refuse to approve it, calling for renegotiations and saying it is unfairly balanced in favor of the United States.

The ruling Grand National Party has a large majority in the legislature, but does not want to force through ratification since previous attempts to do so sparked violent clashes.

The agreement would remove 95% of tariffs between the two economies. The Obama administration says it will support 70,000 U.S. jobs and help double exports to South Korea within five years.

The slow pace of authorization compares with a free-trade pact signed between South Korea and the European Union in October 2010, which was ratified by Seoul without opposition in May and went into effect on July 1.

The deal gave European firms a headstart over the United States in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

In his speech, Lee also called for quick approval of the South Korean government's plan to increase its spending next year by 5.5 percent to 326.1 trillion won ($272.7 billion) from this year's 309.1 trillion won.

The increase is aimed at boosting job creation, leading to better welfare and stronger economic growth.

Lee said the budget reflected five major specific objectives, including providing greater support for young adults seeking to start businesses, encouraging the employment of those without college diplomas and expanding welfare services.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011


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