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Lee says US FTA to draw China, Japan investment

SEOUL -- South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said Wednesday that a sweeping free trade pact with the United States would help draw Chinese and Japanese investment to his country and create more jobs.

Under the pact, “you will see investments in South Korea from China and Japan ... it will create jobs,” Lee told a press conference marking the fourth anniversary this week of his inauguration.

Neither of the Asian giants have free trade agreements of their own with the world's biggest economy, but by establishing a presence in South Korea their firms' exports will be able to benefit from the deal.

The agreement was signed in July 2007 but approved by the U.S. Congress only last October after a partial renegotiation dealing mainly with the auto industry.

South Korea's parliament in turn approved the pact in November despite vehement protests from opposition lawmakers who have urged U.S. President Barack Obama to renegotiate the deal.

Seoul and Washington have agreed the pact will take effect on March 15.

But the main center-left opposition Democratic United Party says that without a renegotiation it will withdraw from the agreement if it takes power following a parliamentary and presidential election this year.

Lee said the politicians who now oppose the trade pact supported it when they were in power in 2007.

He said its terms were comparable to those in an earlier free trade deal with the European Union, to which the opposition did not object.

In other comments Lee cautioned against anti-business sentiment, but urged the giant family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea's economy to do more to help smaller firms.

“The survival of the fittest does not hold true today,” he said. “Big businesses must grow hand in hand with small businesses.”

Lee said the conglomerates, known as “chaebol,” should withdraw from sectors of the economy which were traditionally dominated by small operators.

He also urged South Korean firms to seize opportunities in the Middle East, saying countries there plan to spend oil money on huge infrastructure projects which could help South Korea ride out the global crisis.

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South Korean demonstrators shout slogans during a rally to support the free trade agreement, or FTA, with the United States in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 22. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said Wednesday that a sweeping free trade pact with the United States would help draw Chinese and Japanese investment to his country and create more jobs. (AP)

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