Many labor groups opposed the deals, but the agreements won wide bipartisan support in part because their passage was linked to legislation to extend aid to workers displaced by foreign competition. Obama had demanded that the worker aid bill be part of the trade package.
Standing with Lee at his side during a press conference Thursday, Obama declared the trade deal "a win for both our countries," adding that he was "very pleased that it'll help level the playing field for American automakers."
Still, five of the six House Democrats from Michigan voted against the trade deal, including Rep. Gary Peters, whose district includes GM's Orion plant. Peters said Obama had helped make the deal fairer to U.S. carmakers, but said he believed the deal would cost jobs in Michigan.
The trade agreement comes as South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. are on track to set U.S. sales records this year. Both companies build car and light truck models in the United States, but also export vehicles to the U.S. market.
Last year, the Ford Motor Co. ran an aggressive ad campaign to improve the trade deal by pointing out that for every 52 cars South Korea exported to the U.S., the U.S. only exported one to South Korea. "We believe in free trade, and this isn't it," Ford said in ads that ran in newspapers across the country.
On Friday, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally praised the deal, saying it would "open new opportunities for Ford to reach even more Korean customers."
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The agreements would lower or eliminate tariffs that American exporters face in the three countries. They also take steps to better protect intellectual property and improve access for American...
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