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Official: U.S. working on auto changes in South Korea trade deal

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Official: U.S. working on auto changes in South Korea trade deal

By Justin Hyde

Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON – U.S. trade officials said today they were hopeful of making changes to a proposed South Korean trade deal that could satisfy worries from Detroit’s automakers.

President Barack Obama has cited the South Korea deal as one he’d like Congress to approve, but U.S. automakers and the UAW say the agreement as drafted would free Korea’s Hyundai from tariffs on trucks while doing little to ensure Detroit’s models could be sold in South Korea.

“We’re working on it,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk at the Washington event unveiling the new Ford Explorer.

“We understand our market is huge, and larger than Korea’s,” he added. “What we can’t accept is the inability to go in and just complete, and let the Korean consumer decide like the American consumer decides.”

The Obama administration has suggested it wants to have the final details of the pact finished by November, with a possible vote next year. Several members of Congress, including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, have protested moving ahead on the deal without significant changes.

Ford and Chrysler, along with the UAW, have long opposed the trade deal. General Motors has stayed neutral, since it owns Korean automaker Daewoo. Through June, U.S. automakers had sold 3,771 vehicles in South Korea, according to the Korean Automobile Importers and Distributors Association. During the same period, Hyundai has sold 255,782 vehicles in the United States.

As part of the Explorer unveiling, Ford touted the vehicle's benefits to foreign trade, saying it would be exported to 90 countries. Steven Biegun, Ford’s vice president for international affairs, said changing the trade agreement to curb rules that block imported car sales in South Korea would only give U.S. makers a chance to compete – not guarantee success.

“We do need an open market,” he said.



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