The new head of the U.S. business community in South Korea said Wednesday that he is "optimistic" about the early ratification of a bilateral free trade deal and is doing his best to achieve it.
The free trade agreement, known as the KORUS FTA, was signed in June 2007, but the two countries re-negotiated to revise controversial terms on auto tariffs and pork late last year. The bill has been awaiting approval from the legislatures of both countries.
"In recent public remarks, U.S. President Obama cited 'unprecedented support' for the KORUS FTA in the United States," said Pat Gaines, the newly elected chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM).
"AMCHAM remains very optimistic that this historic agreement will be ratified in both countries in the near future.
AMCHAM is doing everything possible to make this happen."
Gaines, also president of Boeing Korea, was elected in May as the AMCHAM chairman, replacing former chairman Frank Little of 3M.
Gaines said that a delegation of AMCHAM visited Washington in March and met with members of the U.S. Congress and the government to urge them to make efforts to ratify the FTA deal as soon as possible.
"We were very pleased with the amount of positive support we heard related to the agreement," he said.
The trade pact passed the Cabinet of South Korea, but it has yet to be presented to the parliament as the main opposition party is against the accord, claiming that it favors the U.S.
In the U.S., the Trade Adjustment Assistance, a federal program designed to provide re-training and health care benefits for workers, has been hindering the parliamentary ratification process.
But the prospect of ratification has risen recently as Washington is making a push for passing the trade bill within this year, along with FTAs with Panama and Colombia.
"Secretary Clinton emphasized that passing the KORUS FTA will be beneficial for both countries and that it is one of her highest priorities," said Gaines, adding that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke is also supportive of ratification of the agreement.
"As chairman of AMCHAM, I will do my part to promote and support the early ratification of the KORUS FTA," said Gaines.
The accord, if it takes effect, will boost South Korea's economic growth by 6 percent over the long-term and help create 340,000 new jobs, according to the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.
South Korea's trade with the U.S., the world's largest economy and its second-largest trading partner, came to US$84.7 billion last year.
Meanwhile, Gaines said that AMCHAM will step up efforts to strengthen relations and cooperation with the South Korean government and business community.
"It is clear that the economic and trade relationship between the U.S. and Korea is growing and changing, and it is essential for AMCHAM to grow with these changes," said Gaines.