Obama to push S. Korea to allow more U.S. autos image

The Obama administration, backing a request by Ford Motor Co., said South Korea should “level the playing field” by removing barriers to U.S. automobile sales in order to clear the way for a pending free-trade agreement.

Trade Representative Ron Kirk, in the text of a speech he is delivering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tonight, said his office is developing proposals for South Korea to consider.

“All we are asking is for our own auto companies to be able to compete on a level playing field in the Korean market,” Kirk said in the prepared remarks. “We need to be mindful that important stakeholders have real concerns with this agreement.”

Kirk didn’t describe the auto proposals, or say if they would require renegotiating the trade agreement, which has been awaiting congressional approval since 2007.

President Barack Obama’s visit to South Korea during a trip to Asia next week gives him an opportunity to push for the trade accord, some lawmakers and business groups have said.

The two nations had $83 billion in two-way commerce last year, making the so-called KORUS accord the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

“KORUS can be an important part of the administration’s effort to re-engage Asia,” a bipartisan group of 70 lawmakers said in a letter to be sent to Obama tomorrow.

“Preparing KORUS for congressional consideration would continue our partnership with a democratic ally that has a strong record on labor rights and environmental protection,” the lawmakers said in the letter, which was written by Democratic Representative Adam Smith of Washington and signed by more than 35 other Democrats.