U.S. businesses painted dramatically different portraits of a new trade deal with South Korea on Wednesday, some touting lucrative sales opportunities and others charging the Bush administration had brought home an abominable deal for U.S. workers.
This is a gold standard agreement that will generate new trade and investment flows ... and create important new opportunities for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers, Laura Lane, co-chair of a business coalition lobbying for the deal, told the International Trade Commission.
The agreement, by far the largest brokered by the Bush administration, is expected to be signed on June 30, but Congress won't likely vote on it until the fall, after the ITC delivers a study on its effects.
Lane's support of the deal was echoed by executives from the high-tech, insurance, financial services, meat and other industries, who all said the deal would expand sales and give them a share in a dynamic Asian economy.
The deal has strong backing not only from financial companies like Citigroup, but from pork producers who envision more than quadrupled exports. Beef exporters also hope to see South Korea return to its status as their No. 3 market.
But the panel also heard testimony from representatives of other industries who believe the Bush administration brought home a disappointing deal.
Two U.S. auto giants, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group, oppose the deal, which they say allows Korea to perpetuate some tariffs and restrictive import rules that have kept out American cars.
In 2006, about 700,000 Korean vehicles entered the United States, while U.S. auto makers exported 4,000 vehicles to Korea, according to industry figures.
We do not support this agreement in its current form precisely because we do support free trade, and this is not free trade, Ford executive Stephen Biegun said in testimony.
Rep. Sander Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads a House of Representatives trade subcommittee, told the panel that the administration's model for trade deals was deeply flawed.
This agreement is a test of our willingness to stand up for our domestic industry, said Levin.
The U.S. rice industry also opposes the agreement, which provides no market opening for U.S. rice producers.