South Korea and the United States have signed amendments to their landmark free trade agreement, paving the way for the deal to be voted on by lawmakers in both countries.
The two governments exchanged documents signed by South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Thursday.
Kim and Kirk worked out a hard-fought compromise in early December to salvage the original agreement, which was signed in June 2007. Moves to ratify it had stalled amid changes in government in both countries, the global financial crisis and American demands that South Korea take steps to increase U.S. auto imports and ease restrictions on American beef.
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a major push last year to restore momentum to the pact, but were unable to achieve a breakthrough when they met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit held in Seoul in November. Kim and Kirk eventually hashed out the final deal during four days of negotiations outside Washington about three weeks later.
The two sides agreed to revisions on the elimination of auto tariffs and South Korea said American manufacturers could export a limited number of vehicles that conform only to U.S. safety standards. The beef issue, however, was ultimately not included.
The free trade agreement, which requires approval by the U.S. Congress and South Korea's National Assembly, is the largest for Washington since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.
Kirk said Wednesday that Obama plans to send the agreement to Congress in the next few weeks, telling the House Ways and Means Committee that Obama hopes lawmakers will approve it in the spring.
The administration says that the accord could mean billions of dollars in increased U.S. exports and create tens of thousands of jobs.
The statement by the South Korean ministry said the government will consult with lawmakers to work toward ratification of the agreement by the National Assembly.
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