South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday promoted the benefits of the country's free-trade agreement with the United States, saying the historic deal will bolster their alliance and create many jobs.
Lee arrived in Washington on Tuesday for a state visit that includes summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and an address to a joint Congressional session. The five-day trip is largely celebratory of the Congressional ratification of the free-trade pact.
"We are facing a significant watershed since the 1953 military alliance" between the two countries, Lee said in a speech at a meeting with American business leaders hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stressing that the pact will greatly bolster the relations between the two countries in many aspects.
Lee said that the trade agreement will be beneficial not only for big companies, but also for working-class people, small business owners and "those who have lost jobs and are looking for ones."
"There are people opposed to this (agreement) over concern that they could lose jobs. I am confident that in a year or two following the ratification, we can show that we were right" that the pact contributes to job creation, he said,
The deal, first signed in 2007 and then modified last year, calls for tearing down or reducing tariffs and other barriers to the exchange of goods and services. Officials have stressed the accord is not simply an economic deal, but will also have far-reaching impacts on the overall relations between the traditional allies.
According to government data, the free-trade accord with the U.S. is expected to increase South Korea's gross domestic product by 7.2 percent to US$32.6 billion over the next seven to 10 years, while contributing to creating an additional 520,000 jobs.
South Korea, a resource-scarce nation that relies mainly on exports for economic growth, has been aggressively seeking free-trade accords with foreign countries to expand what Lee dubs the country's "economic territory."
Besides the agreement with the U.S., the fourth-largest Asian economy has seven FTAs already in effect, including those with the European Union and India, and is in negotiation with seven other nations, such as Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
American participants in Wednesday's lunch meeting included U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, Gale International Chairman Stan Gale and Cargill CEO Joe Stone.