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White House calls Obama's Asian tour a success

Trying to counter perceptions that the trip failed to bring about solid results, advisor David Axelrod says, 'Things don't change overnight.'

November 19, 2009|By John M. Glionna and Peter Nicholas

Polling shows Obama is popular in the region, Axelrod said, but "we didn't have expectations that Barack Obama arrives in China or anywhere else and things change overnight."

On the issue of the South Korean free-trade pact, Obama said Washington and Seoul were working to overcome obstacles that remained in the way of the agreement. In his major speech in Asia, delivered last weekend in Tokyo, Obama had pledged to "move forward" on the free-trade pact. But in a private meeting, Obama told the South Korean trade minister that "we have a lot of work to do," according to the semiofficial Yonhap news agency.

The main sticking point has been autos. South Korea is a major exporter of cars to the U.S., but very few vehicles made in America are sold in South Korea, an imbalance that many analysts say is largely market driven and not a result of trade barriers.

Nonetheless, pressed by organized labor, key members of Congress in states such as Michigan and Ohio have blocked the trade agreement, insisting that additional measures and safeguards be put in place to boost American car shipments to South Korea.

During the news conference, Lee told Obama: "If the car [issue] is a problem, we are ready to talk again."

The trade pact was negotiated in 2007 and would remove auto duties in both countries. But its potential effect is seen as much broader, as it addresses nontariff barriers on a wide range of goods and services, as well as containing strong provisions on intellectual property, labor, environment and regulatory processes.

South Korea is the United States' seventh-largest trading partner, with two-way trade nearing $85 billion last year. Analysts have said that a free-trade pact between the two nations could lead to tens of thousands of additional jobs in the United States.

Obama and his economic team have said repeatedly that, in recovering from the financial crisis, the United States must build an economy that is more export-oriented.

"You know, all of these things require solid diplomacy, relationship building and discussions," said Axelrod. "But we didn't come halfway across the world for ticker-tape parades. We came here to lay a foundation for progress.

"We've done that. So we believe it was a successful trip."

Times staff writer Don Lee in Washington and special correspondent Ju-min Park in Seoul contributed to this report.

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