Is a Sonic boom in store for Obama and Lee?

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak take part in a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak take part in a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak take part in a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

LAKE ORION, Michigan -- On a trade mission that could trigger a Sonic boom, President Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak today visit the GM plant where the new Chevrolet Sonic subcompact is assembled.

It's an effort by the two leaders to trumpet the new U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement approved by Congress Wednesday night after years of delay.

"And with our landmark trade agreement," said Mr. Obama yesterday in welcoming Lee to the White House, "we will bring our nations even closer, creating new jobs for both our people, and preserving our edge as two of the most dynamic economies in the world.

President Lee called the trade deal an "historic achievement (that) will open a new chapter" in the U.S.-Korean relationship.

"This agreement will create more jobs," said Lee, speaking in Korean. "It will become a new engine of growth that will propel our economies forward."

At the GM factory 40 miles north of Detroit, the two leaders will spotlight the Chevy Sonic, which was originally engineered for GM Korea.

The White House points out that the Sonic is the first GM-engineered subcompact that GM has built in the US in over 40 years. Further, it's a joint venture with GM Korea that the White House says has helped save the assembly plant along with its 1,750 jobs.

Supporters of the U.S./Korea trade deal say it will open the door to big increases in American car sales in Korea - including the Sonic.

A White House official says the agreement "will immediately cut Korean tariffs on U.S. autos in half (from 8 percent to 4 percent) and fully eliminate them within five years."

But some members of Congress, including Democrats, have their doubts.

"It will lead to the further erosion of our already degraded manufacturing base," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., about the trade agreements with South Korea, Panama & Colombia.

"Even the cheerleaders at the United States International Trade Commission admit that this agreement will increase our trade deficit which means we will lose more jobs," DeFazio said of the deal with Korea.

His assessment is echoed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who said of the trade deals "we know from experience will lead to more jobs shipped overseas and greater trade deficits."

She cited analysis from the Economic Policy Institute that the agreement with South Korea will displace 159,000 American workers.

The White House doesn't dispute that some Americans will lose their jobs but says that's why it insisted that Congress approve a program aimed at helping workers who lose their job as result of international trade.

At the GM plant, the two leaders will reaffirm what President Lee said yesterday of the trade agreement. "It will be a win for both of our countries."

  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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