NEW: Obama and Lee visit a General Motors assembly plant outside of Detroit
NEW: Obama proclaims the 2009 auto industry bailout a success
Their visit comes on the heels of a new trade agreement
The two leaders also have a common concern: North Korea
President Barack Obama and his South Korean counterpart hit the road together Friday, traveling to the heart of America’s Rust Belt to tout a recently approved trade deal between Washington and Seoul.
Obama also used the occasion to defend his controversial 2009 bailout of the U.S. auto industry, which has shown recent signs of recovery.
Obama and President Lee Myung-bak visited Orion Township, Michigan – on the outskirts of Detroit – to visit a General Motors assembly plant. GM, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, got federal funding to help with its reorganization.
The plant, which now produces the new Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, was set to shut down during GM’s bankruptcy restructuring. But the plant’s subcompact expertise – along with a joint venture with GM Korea – saved the facility and its 1,750 jobs.
The trade deal is “a win-win” for America and South Korea, Obama told a crowd of cheering workers at the plant. “We live in a global economy. … The more goods and services we sell abroad, the more jobs we create here at home.”
This deal “will not take away any of your jobs,” Lee declared. “This is the pledge I give you today.”
The two leaders also hailed the new trade deal at a White House dinner Thursday.
Congress approved the agreement on Wednesday – along with deals with Panama and Colombia – on a bipartisan basis.
Administration officials contend the South Korean deal alone with boost U.S. exports by up to $11 billion while supporting 70,000 American jobs.
“We believe in American ingenuity,” Obama said Friday. “Most importantly, we believe in American workers.”
Partly as a result of the auto bailout, Detroit “is a city where a great American industry is coming back to life,” Obama added. It’s time to “write the next proud chapter in the Motor City’s history.”
The audience gave an enthusiastic reception to Lee, who wore a Detroit Tigers cap. The Tigers are currently playing for the American League pennant.
While trade has dominated the headlines during Lee’s visit, Washington and Seoul also share a common concern over North Korea.
“We agree that North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a serious threat to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the world,” Lee said Thursday. “We will continue to work towards denuclearization in the peninsula.”
The two nations are also working together on climate change, economic issues through the G20 and a nuclear summit scheduled for next year in Seoul.
CNN’s Elise Labott, Alan Silverleib, Becky Brittain and Scott Spoerry contributed to this report.