5 Min Read
* Obama says working on South Korea trade pact
* Repeats vow to double U.S. exports in five years
* Boeing's McNerney says U.S. need the trade pacts
By Alister Bull and Patricia Zengerle (Updates with comments by Locke, McNerney))
WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he wants to advance free trade agreements with U.S. partners, including important ally South Korea, and repeated a vow to double America's exports over the next five years.
"We hope to move forward on new trade agreements with some of our key partners in a way that doesn't just advance the interests of our businesses, workers and farmers, but also upholds our most cherished values," Obama said at the White House, marking the release of a national report on exports.
The president is seeking to augment weak domestic demand by boosting sales abroad as he fights unemployment near 10 percent and flagging economic growth. But he also wants trade pacts to include standards protecting worker rights and the environment.
Top White House adviser Larry Summers later said the United States would have little chance of curbing unemployment if it failed to approach Obama's goal on exports.
On Capitol Hill, a Senate Committee heard from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that the administration was taking a tougher line on China's currency and trade policies that critics complain are hurting U.S. job growth and corporate profits. [ID:nN16269571]
U.S. economic uncertainty has alarmed voters, who could take this anger out on Obama's Democrats in Nov. 2 congressional midterm elections.
But trade is a touchy topic for many Americans, who blame the loss of well-paid U.S. jobs on overseas competition in sectors like the battered U.S. auto industry, a particular issue for the trade deal with South Korea.
"We're also working to resolve outstanding issues with our free trade agreements with our key partners, like Korea, and to seek congressional approval as soon as possible," Obama said.
He made no direct mention of concluding trade pacts with Colombia and Panama.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke later reiterated that the president supported moving forward on deals with these countries, but stressed that more work was needed.
"There are some specific issues that have to be resolved in each of the different agreements so far," Locke told reporters at the White House. "Some of them are very technical, dealing with taxation issues and so forth. But the president recognizes that they can be the source of a lot of new jobs."
Obama wants to resolve concerns over a trade pact with South Korea by November -- when he will visit the country to attend a Group of 20 leaders summit -- so he can submit the agreement to Congress by early next year.
U.S. lawmakers would have to turn quickly to the trade pact after the November election, in which Republicans are predicted to make gains against the Democrats, in order to be in time for the G20 leaders summit on Nov. 11-12.
U.S. car-makers and auto workers complain the South Korean trade pact fails to tear down a number of longtime nontariff barriers that have so far limited U.S. auto exports to this fast-growing and potentially lucrative market.
Jim McNerney, chairman and chief executive of Boeing Co (BA.N) and head of Obama's export council, said U.S. companies were desperate for the deals to go through.
"We are losing market share to European and Asian and even South American countries. There are 600 free trade agreements being worked on right now around the world and I think the U.S. is focused on single digits," he told reporters at the White House after the president spoke.
In spelling out how the United States could lift exports by improving its own systems, Obama cited boosting the number of U.S. trade missions abroad, removing trade barriers and boosting the availability of trade finance as tangible steps.
"We think we can move rapidly on some of these fronts, and we're pleased to see the fresh and innovative strategies we can pursue to help small and medium sized companies sell their goods and services abroad," he said. (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Wilson and Vicki Allen)