U.S. President Barack Obama told congressional critics of a free trade deal with South Korea he would consider asking Seoul for changes to labor, investment and financial provisions of the pact to help win approval of the deal in Congress, a lawmaker said on Thursday.
"He wanted us to give him a list of what our other concerns were," Representative Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat, told Reuters after he and eight other lawmakers met with Obama.
Obama said he "is willing to go over that list and see which ones they agree with, and the ones that they do (agree with) they'll try (to pursue) when they continue the negotiations with the Koreans," the Maine Democrat said.
But Michaud, who is chairman of the House of Representatives Trade Working Group, said also Obama made clear finalizing the trade deal was a priority and "he definitely does not want to start from scratch" to get that done.
Obama's conversation with Michaud and his colleagues reflects the political problems he faces in embracing the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which the two countries signed three years ago when George W. Bush was president.
For many Democrats, the pact is based on a "bad template" that Bush used to negotiate a raft of trade deals during his eight years in office, Michaud said.
U.S. and South Korean negotiators plan to resume talks soon on the trade deal in Washington, following their failure to resolve beef and auto trade issues during Obama's recent trip to Seoul for the Group of 20 summit.
Michaud said his group told Obama "we're willing to work with him on Korea and other trade deals, but we have very serious concerns beyond autos and beef ... We have issues with labor, investment and financial chapters ."
An extended list of U.S. demands could complicate chances of quick agreement on the deal, and Michaud acknowledged they had to be "realistic" about what more Obama could get.
And from Roll Call:
Here's an excerpt from the Michaud press release about the meeting:
And here's a letter he and others sent to President Obama and Korean President Lee last month, outlining their concerns.