In April 2007, both countries concluded 10 months of negotiations for a landmark agreement to slash tariffs and other barriers to commerce and signed it three months later. However, the pact has been in limbo since then with progress slowed by changes of government in both countries, the global economic slump and Washington's demands that Seoul make concessions on trade in autos and beef. Until it is ratified by legislatures in both countries, the agreement cannot take effect.
"I am quite positive we'll reach an agreement that will be acceptable to both" countries, Lee said before a planned meeting with Obama during the Group of 20 summit in Seoul next week. He added that he and Obama are committed to getting the agreement completed and that their respective trade ministers are trying to work out a compromise.
In June, on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting in Canada, Obama and Lee vowed to try and resolve differences by the time of the next summit of the leading rich and emerging countries on Nov. 11-12. Last week South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk met in the US to try and make progress.
The White House said Obama told Lee that he wants to "use the next week to make progress toward an agreement." The White House added if Seoul and Washington "can reach a satisfactory agreement on the key issues for American workers, we will have a deal."
The US has said that the deal cannot go forward without addressing a further loosening of restrictions on imports of American beef and South Korea's overwhelming surplus in auto trade. Seoul has resisted any formal renegotiation of the deal, but has said it is willing to discuss US concerns.
In 2009, bilateral trade between South Korea and the US totaled $66.7 billion, down sharply from $84.7 billion in 2008 as global commerce suffered during the economic downturn.