South Korean ambassador confident about trade deal

South Korea’s ambassador on Friday said he’s confident Congress will approve a trade deal with his country.

Ambassador Han Duk-Soo said negotiations over the finalized text of the agreement have been completed and he expects both sides will sign the deal soon.

“There will be no further negotiations. It is done now,” said Han, who spoke to reporters at a lunch hosted by the National Foreign Trade Council.

South Korea’s goal is to see Congress pass the trade deal “as soon as possible.” Approval by Congress likely will prompt South Korea’s legislature to sign off on it as well, he said.

July 1 looms large as a target date for approval for the Obama administration because that is when a trade deal between Korea and the European Union is expected to go into effect. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said the administration wants the U.S. trade agreement to be moved through Congress before then.

But some obstacles remain. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is not pleased that the deal didn’t address trade barriers for U.S. beef exports.

The ambassador said he was not concerned by Baucus’s opposition because the trade deal has the support of several industry associations, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and that the Montana senator has been a “champion” for opening up trade with Korea in the past.

In addition, several Republican lawmakers have said that they want to include the Korean trade deal in a lump vote with two other pending agreements with Colombia and Panama. Kirk, however, has said in the past that it would be a “huge mistake” to do so that because it would “short-circuit” the process in fixing the two South American trade deals.

The ambassador said he was not worried that GOP demands would slow down approval of Korea’s trade deal. President Obama has said he plans to move quickly on the Colombia and Panama trade agreements once Korea’s deal is approved.  

“I’m not very worried much about that,” Han said. “I think Republicans are very much in favor of this agreement.”

The ambassador said he expects to meet with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) next week. He also said he was not concerned about freshman GOP House members close to the Tea Party moving against the trade deal after having met with some of them.

“My impression is pretty good,” he said.