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Top Democrat urges Obama on S.Korea trade deal

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry on Monday urged President Barack Obama to quickly press for a vote in Congress on a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea.

"The United States should work with South Korea to resolve legitimate concerns and quickly approve the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement," the senior Democrat said in a statement touting the job-creating benefits of the pact.

Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, joined Kerry in urging Obama to send the agreement to Congress for a vote "as soon as possible."

"The scope of the agreement and the size of both our economies -- the world's largest and 14th largest in terms of GDP, respectively -- are significant enough to create thousands of well-paying jobs and help generate billions in wealth for both countries," the senators said in letter.

"Submission of the agreement to Congress also would be considered a significant show of solidarity with a close and reliable ally," they said.

Despite Kerry's support for the South Korea agreement, many Democrats in the House of Representatives remain opposed to the pact and two other delayed deals with Colombia and Panama.

The senators' plea for Obama to move quickly to resolve auto, beef and other trade concerns that have blocked the South Korean agreement came one week before South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon is due in Washington.

"A renewed commitment to move on the KORUS (Korea-U.S.) FTA will create an atmosphere more conducive to resolution of these issues," the senators said.

Monday also was the third anniversary of a deal the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush struck with Democrats to strengthen labor, environmental and other provisions of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama pacts.

House Republicans marked the occasion by releasing a report showing how the delay in approving the Colombia agreement, the oldest of the three pending deals, has hurt U.S. farm exports to that country.

"It has been three years since Congress reached a bipartisan compromise on a new framework designed to move forward on America's trade policy, but the trade agenda has collapsed through inaction by the administration and key Democrats in Congress," said Representative Dave Camp, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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