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Obama to Press for Trade Deal With South Korea

President Barack Obama said Saturday his administration will launch talks with South Korea aimed at resolving remaining issues blocking the completion of a South Korea free trade agreement.

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Tom Grill | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

Obama said that his goal would be to clear up the remaining issues before he visits South Korea in November and to submit the agreement to Congress for approval within a "few months" after his visit.

"It is the right thing to do for our country. It is the right thing to do for Korea," Obama said with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at his side.

Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said the deal would likely be sent to Congress early next year, although he said the pact might be sent sooner during a possible lameduck session of Congress after the November elections.

Gibbs said the two major sticking points for the administration included barriers South Korea has erected to the sale of U.S. autos and beefin South Korea.

The administration of George W. Bush negotiated a free trade deal with South Korea in 2007, but the agreement has been stalled in the United States since that time because of determined opposition led by U.S. automakers who complained about South Korean barriers to sales of foreign-made cars.

Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration, in the face of stiff opposition from U.S. labor groups, has refused to send the agreement to Congress for a vote.

Under U.S. law, both the House and Senate have to consider trade agreements under fast-track procedures that require up-and-down votes without amendments in a specified amount of time.

Democratic members of Congress said South Korea will have to fully address the concerns of U.S. producersfor the free trade deal to win congressional approval.

"Congress expects to be consulted actively in these negotiations and the date targeted by the president can be met only if the outstanding issues are fully addressed with enforceable commitments," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Republicans said they hoped the announcement concerning South Korea meant that the administration is prepared to move forward with two other completed free trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration with Panama and Colombia.

"I urge the president to commit to finish negotiations on all three agreements by the end of the year, if not sooner," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Obama said a completed deal would strengthen commercial ties between the two countries and "create enormous potential economic benefits" by removing barriers to the sale of American products in South Korea, the 14th largest economy in the world. The administration estimated it could boost exports of American products by $10 billion to $11 billion annually.

Obama said the agreement would "create jobs here in the United States which is my No. 1 priority."

Lee thanked Obama for agreeing to move ahead with the trade deal by setting a date when he expected to send it to Congress.

"We will work toward that date and that objective," he told Obama.

The two men spoke to reporters after holding talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in Toronto.