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White House seeks South Korea trade deal before Seoul meet

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Negotiators will put "maximum effort" toward resolving objections in the Congress to a U.S.-South Korean free-trade agreement by the time President Barack Obama goes to Seoul on November 10, an administration official said on Monday.

The United States and South Korea are trying to resolve beef and auto concerns blocking U.S. congressional approval of the trade pact by November 10. Obama meets with President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul on November 11.

The trade deal was signed in June 2007 but has languished in the face of opposition in Congress. Obama pledged at the last G20 meeting, in Toronto in June, to push to remove obstacles to the deal by this month's trip.

"The president has long said we want to try and address the outstanding issues regarding the FTA in order to bring it forward for approval," Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, said. "Those outstanding issues fall largely in the area of autos and beef.

"Those discussions are under way. I can't predict at this point how they will proceed but we're going to put every effort into achieving ... an acceptable agreement, a satisfactory agreement, by the time the president comes to Seoul," he told a news conference in advance of Obama's departure for Asia on Friday.

The pact has been stalled in the U.S. Congress by many U.S. lawmakers from Midwestern auto states who say it does not do enough to tear down non-tariff barriers that they blame for low U.S. autos sales in the South Korean market.

Other farm state lawmakers want Seoul to completely open its market to U.S. beef by accepting beef from all ages of cattle, not just those under 30 months.

Obama's 10-day trip will take him to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. It will include a G20 summit in Seoul and an Asia-Pacific leaders summit in Japan.

Froman declined to discuss specifics when asked whether Washington had a target in mind for U.S. auto sales to South Korea or whether U.S. negotiators had proposed that Seoul allow imports of autos that meet U.S. safety and emissions standards/

"We've had a series of discussions about a range of issues in the auto sector," he said. "Those discussions will continue over the next week and a half or so in the run-up to the president's visit.

"We're going to put maximum effort into trying to resolve the outstanding issues by the time of the president's trip," he said.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Doug Palmer; Editing by Bill Trott