U.S., South Korea look to resolve differences in pending trade deal

U.S. and South Korean trade officials will talk autos and beef Tuesday during a meeting on the stalled trade agreement between the two countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will meet South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon in San Francisco, the administration said Monday.

President Obama has set a Nov. 11 deadline for reaching a deal on the two issues, which have kept the administration from sending the agreement negotiated by the Bush administration to Congress.

Obama is set to travel to South Korea on Nov. 11 to take part in a meeting of G-20 leaders hosted by Seoul. Negotiations between the two countries are expected to heat up after the midterm elections in the U.S. on Nov. 2.

Ford Motor Co. opposes the agreement, which it believes will lead to a rush of new imports without doing anything to increase U.S. auto sales to South Korea. Ford’s opposition creates a dilemma for Obama, since it is the only U.S. auto company that did not accept a federal bailout in 2009.

The deal negotiated by the Bush administration would immediately eliminate tariffs on vehicles from South Korea, a major exporter and producer of cars in the United States. Ford and other U.S. automakers complain that foreign imports make up less than 5 percent of the South Korea market.

Beef is also an outstanding issue — South Korea only allows imports of U.S. beef from cows 30 months old or younger because of the mad-cow disease scare in the United States earlier this decade.

Both Ford and U.S. beef producers have support in Congress from the Democratic chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction over trade: Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) in the House and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in the Senate.

In a related development, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Monday criticized Hyundai Motor America President and CEO John Krafcik for comments about Hyundai’s U.S. production. Dingell charged that Krafcik implied Hyundai was more American than U.S. companies because of its production in the United States.

A CNN story cited by Dingell quoted Krafcik as saying that while Hyundai would build its three best-selling cars in the U.S., “Ford builds its best-selling car in Mexico.”

Dingell wrote in a letter to Krafcik that Ford employs nearly eight times as many Americans as Hyundai and Kia, another South Korean producer, and added that Hyundai sends a majority of its profits to South Korea.

“Consequently, I think it is absurd to suggest that Hyundai is more American than U.S.-based automakers,” wrote Dingell, who is facing a competitive reelection fight this year.

He asked Krafcik to write back to him on whether Hyundai would support amending the trade deal to improve market access for U.S. car producers.