California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the U.S. Congress to quickly ratify pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, saying Wednesday that the deals are vital to Washington's goal of doubling American exports in five years.
Schwarzenegger spoke in South Korea's capital, where he was wrapping up an Asian tour after visiting China and Japan. He was accompanied by a trade mission of some 100 business executives from his state. All three countries are major California trade partners.
"There are three trade agreements gathering dust in the halls of Congress, with Panama, with Colombia and with Korea," Schwarzenegger said in a speech to U.S. and South Korean business executives.
Schwarzenegger commended President Barack Obama for his pledge made earlier this year to double U.S. exports over five years and quoted estimates that the three trade deals could boost U.S. exports by more than $10 billion and create tens of thousands of jobs.
"If you are for jobs and if your No. 1 priority is stimulating the economy and if you believe in economic freedom then approve those free trade agreements so you can start putting people back to work," he said, calling on Congress to act.
Suspicions regarding free trade, often a hard sell during good times, have deepened in the United States as the jobless rate has hovered around 10 percent following the global financial crisis and recession. Advocates, such as Schwarzenegger, say that rather than endangering jobs, such deals actually create them by increasing export opportunities.
The biggest of the three agreements is between Washington and Seoul. They finished negotiations in April of 2007 and signed the deal three months later. There has been little progress since, however, amid changes in government in both countries, the worldwide financial crisis and U.S. demands that South Korea address its wide surplus in auto trade.
South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, who spoke to the gathering ahead of Schwarzenegger, said that the deal is now being revived a little thanks to the strong commitment of the leaders of the two countries - Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak - who met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Toronto in June.
The deal also requires ratification by South Korea's National Assembly.
Schwarzenegger said California stands to gain from the South Korea accord, noting that his state exported $6 billion of goods to the country last year and that it is California's fifth-largest trading partner.
California, the biggest U.S. state in population, has proposed a high-speed rail network and Schwarzenegger is using the Asian trip to sample fast train technologies in the three countries.
"We're gonna use some of your technology and we hope that the Koreans are gonna bid on the high-speed rail and they're the ones that end up building the high-speed rail," he said ahead of a scheduled ride later Wednesday.
Asked if the remark suggested that Schwarzenegger favors South Korea over its rivals, Rachel Arrezola, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an e-mail that he "is looking at high speed rail trains in China, Japan and Korea and he hopes all will bid on California."
© 2010 The Associated Press.