The Seoul government has signed a contract with a U.S. lobbying firm in efforts to facilitate the U.S. Congress`s ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The Korean embassy in Washington sealed a six-month deal in December with Parven Pomper Strategies, a renowned American lobbying group, for help in persuading U.S. officials and members of Congress critical of the FTA, the sources said.

The PPS is well-known for dealing with trade issues and maintains a significant connection with the U.S. Democratic Party, they said.

The contract, worth $120,000, became effective Jan. 1, sources said, adding that it could be renewed once on the same terms and conditions.

The lobbyists will provide Koreans with strategic advice on their efforts and advertise the economic and political gains of the Korea-U.S. FTA to the Washington government officials and Congress members.

Korea and the United States signed a free trade accord in June 2007, but neither country has ratified it yet.

The Korean government submitted a motion to the National Assembly for ratification in September 2007 and again in October 2008. The motion is pending due to vocal protests from opposition parties.

The U.S. government has not sent the deal to the Democrat-controlled Congress, and Koreans believe the prospects of its ratification are not bright while the Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the presidency.

U.S. President Barack Obama has criticized the deal as “flawed,” saying it disadvantages American auto manufacturers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also repeatedly said that she could not support the existing KORUS FTA, and called for a revision of the document.

Congressional leaders also have shown negative viewpoints toward the deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been clear in her opposition to the accord.

The outbreak of the economic crisis is expected to negatively impact the prospects of its ratification in the United States.

The Seoul government says it will reject any U.S. request for renegotiating the agreement.

By Jin Dae-woong