President Obama wants approval for South Korean trade deal

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Debate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Is Joe Biden finished? MORE said Tuesday he’ll work to win congressional approval of a controversial trade deal with South Korea in 2010.

Obama told Fox News Channel’s Major Garrett that “I want to get the deal done.”

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Asked if that meant the deal would be approved in 2010, Obama said: “The question is whether we can get it done at the beginning of 2010, whether we can get it done at the end of 2010.”

Economically, a trade pact with South Korea would be the biggest free trade deal Congress has seen since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada that was approved in former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race MORE’s first term.

The South Korea deal is opposed by labor unions and auto manufacturers, most notably Ford, the only American company not to accept a federal bailout earlier this year. Ford and the United Autoworkers have demanded that the deal be changed to address their concerns.

It is also opposed by many Democrats, including Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee. Levin last week called on the administration to press South Korea to remove barriers to U.S. auto exports. He notes that sales of South Korean vehicles in the U.S. far exceed the sales of U.S. cars in South Korea, a disparity he blames on Korean trade barriers.

Those trends have been exacerbated in some ways by the global recession, which has been devastating to automakers around the world. South Korea’s Hyundai has been seen as a winner in the recession; it increased its share of the U.S. market in 2009.

Moving the deal next year would set off a bruising fight among Democrats during an election year. The party remains divided over trade, and the South Korean deal is one of three pacts signed by former President George W. Bush that have not been taken up by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The president arrived on Wednesday in South Korea in the last leg of his Asian tour, which has taken him from Japan to Singapore to China.

The president said he would be discussing the pending trade agreement with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak while he is visiting that country, saying “there's still some details that need to be worked out.”

“Overall, I think it’s a potential good deal for U.S. exporters, but there’s certain sectors of the economy that aren't dealt with as effectively, and that’s something I'm going to be talking to President Lee about,” Obama said.

The president is scheduled to return to the White House on Thursday night.


— Ian Swanson contributed to this article.