(SEOUL, South Korea) -- President Obama and his trade negotiators failed to convince their South Korean counterparts to expand market access for American automobiles and beef Thursday, sinking hopes that President Obama would leave Seoul with the free trade agreement his administration has pursued so vigorously.
President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak acknowledged the bottleneck at a joint press conference. Both leaders tried to spin the impasse.
President Lee said that he and President Obama have agreed to give South Korean trade minister Kim Jong-hoon and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk “more time so that they can finalize the technical issues. And President Obama and I will continue to work together so that we can have a mutually acceptable agreement at the earliest possible date.”
After meeting with President Lee in June, President Obama seemed to hope the agreement would be close to done by now, which, sources said, it is not. “I want to make sure that everything is lined up properly by the time that I visit Korea in November,” President Obama said then. “And then in the few months that follow that, I intend to present it to Congress.”
The failure to reach an agreement was not unexpected -- negotiators didn’t even focus on beef exports, because the disagreements on that point are seemingly irreconcilable at this time. Still, the news is a disappointment for President Obama and his team, who say an agreement would increase the export of American goods to South Korea by approximately $10 billion, with billions more in services, in turn supporting more than 70,000 jobs in the U.S.
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