South Korea boosts lobbying ranks to help push U.S. trade deal

South Korea has bulked up its lobbying and public relations team to try to win approval of a free-trade deal with the U.S.

The Korean embassy signed the Glover Park Group to a yearlong, nearly $400,000 contract in early September, according to Justice Department records. At about the same time, the embassy signed public relations giant Edelman to a three-month, $120,000 agreement.

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“We hired them to help us to work with this Congress to get this [free trade agreement] passed,” John Brinkley, communications director for the Korean embassy, told The Hill.

During the first half of 2010, the Korean government already had signed at least four different firms to help win over lawmaker support for the trade deal, which has been stalled since President George W. Bush signed it several years ago.

In May, the Korean embassy hired Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Earlier in March, Korea hired PR firm Fratelli Group and lobby shop Thomas Capitol Partners.

Korea did terminate a contract with Parven Pomper Strategies, but that firm was purchased by Akin Gump, which is now part of the Korean lobbying team.

There are signs that work on the deal could pick up.

At the G-20 Summit in June, President Obama said he wanted the deal approved by the end of this year. U.S. trade negotiators are meeting with Korean officials to try to win changes to the pact that could bring it more support in Congress.

The deal is opposed by labor unions as well as the Ford Motor Co. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sandy Levin, a Democrat from auto-heavy Michigan, has made it clear the agreement will have to be modified to win his support. He argues the deal would lower tariffs and barriers to Korean vehicles that already have good access to the U.S. market, while doing little to open the Korean market to U.S. automakers.

Some advocates hope the legislation could be considered in a lame-duck session after the midterm elections. But that period of work is already jam-packed with other legislation that needs to get done before the year’s close.

But if Republicans make gains or take over the House, the Korean deal could be something GOP lawmakers and Obama could agree on.