Democrats ask to meet Obama on Korea trade concerns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 100 U.S. Democratic lawmakers asked on Thursday to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss their concerns about his plan to seek congressional approval of a trade deal with South Korea.

“At a time when our economy is struggling to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, it is unthinkable to consider moving forward with another job-killing FTA,” the 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter to Obama.

The letter underscores the battle Obama faces within his own party unless he persuades South Korea to make substantial changes to the agreement it negotiated three years ago with the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Obama has said he wants to resolve outstanding concerns with the pact by November so he can submit it to Congress by early next year, a move welcomed by House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

U.S. trade official have identified two main issues blocking the pact: South Korea’s restrictions on imports of U.S. beefs, and auto trade provisions of the pact that critics say favor South Korean automakers too much.

But in their letter, the 110 House Democrats made clear they had a longer list of concerns.

“We oppose specific provisions of the agreement in the financial services, investment and labor chapters because they benefit multi-national corporations at the expense of small businesses and workers,” they said.

“And we strongly object to the non-tariff barriers to the Korean market that numerous U.S. industries -- including the auto, beef and textile sectors -- will continue to face even as their Korean counterparts receive virtually total access to the American market,” they said.

The letter was signed by many top Democrats including Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller.

They said they want to meet with Obama to discuss their ideas for improving the Korean trade deal, and the U.S. negotiating model for future free trade agreements.

There are 255 Democrats and 178 Republicans in the House. It takes a simple majority, or 217 votes currently, to pass a trade deal. Most Republicans are expected to support the Korea agreement if it comes to a vote.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Xavier Briand