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Corrected: Obama to push for South Korea trade approval


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the press in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the press in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

(corrects 3rd paragaph to show others deals include, Colombia, not South Korea)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday was expected to start building the case for approval of a free-trade agreement with South Korea that he says would boost U.S. annual exports of automobile, agricultural products and other goods and services by $11 billion.

Obama was due on Saturday to make a public statement on the pact, which has been held up for three years because of U.S. auto and beef industry concerns.

A deal struck with South Korean negotiators on Friday sets the stage for congressional action on the pact in 2011.

U.S. business groups hope the free-trade agreement -- as well as long-delayed trade deals with Panama and Colombia -- could be one area of cooperation between Obama's Democratic administration and Republicans in Congress, who won a majority in the House of Representatives in November's elections.

The top Republican in the Senate and a Democratic leader in the House have lauded the deal. The United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co. also have welcomed the changes made this week to address their concerns about market access provisions of the original deal.

"Last month in Seoul I directed our negotiators to achieve the best deal for American workers and companies and this agreement meets that test," Obama said in a statement on Friday.

Obama said the free-trade deal, reached after intensive negotiations in the past few days, would boost exports to South Korea by $11 billion and support at least 70,000 American jobs.

Both the House and Senate must approve the agreement and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he was prepared to work with Obama to win approval.

"The goal of improving market access for American farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers is one that the president and I share," he said. "We both agree that increasing markets overseas through trade agreements will create good jobs that are greatly needed at this time of high unemployment."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, also praised the deal, which was announced in Washington on Friday after several days of closed-door negotiations in nearby Columbia, Maryland.

"This is an important step forward to expand the reach of American exports, which will help create more American jobs," Hoyer said. "It also helps strengthen our ties to a dependable democratic ally that fosters prosperity and stability in Asia and enhances our economic and national security."

The United States and South Korea signed a trade agreement on June 30, 2007, but ratification has been delayed due to sticking points involving U.S. autos and the opening of South Korean beef market.

(Writing by Doug Palmer; Editing by Bill Trott)

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