US, South Korean Presidents Visit Auto Plant

Posted October 14th, 2011 at 1:25 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak are in Michigan, home of the U.S. auto industry, promoting a new trade deal passed this week by the U.S. Congress.

The two leaders are visiting a factory outside Detroit operated by General Motors. The plant in Orion Township produces the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact car, which is made with South Korean parts.

The White House says during General Motors' bankruptcy restructuring two years ago, the joint venture with General Motors Korea saved the Orion plant from shutdown, preserving 1,750 jobs.

The state of Michigan was hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Its unemployment rate stands at 11.2 percent — the third highest in the nation.

Mr. Obama has said the trade deal passed in the U.S. Congress this week will open South Korea's market to U.S.-made automobiles and other goods, supporting 70,000 U.S. jobs and boosting American exports by $11 billion.

The independent U.S. International Trade Commission reports that the United States exported only about 7,500 vehicles to South Korea last year, while South Korea exported some 560,000 vehicles to the United States.

The North Korean nuclear dispute has been at the center of talks since Mr. Lee's visit began Wednesday. In a joint press conference Thursday, both President Lee and Obama agreed that they remain united in their approach to the isolated communist regime.

Thursday night, Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle hosted Mr. Lee and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok, at a formal state dinner at the White House, with the leaders toasting each other as close friends, and praising the Washington-Seoul alliance. The U.S. president drew laughs when he revealed Mr. Lee's nickname — “Bulldog.”