On June 26, President Barack Obama announced he will ask Congress to approve the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) — the biggest NAFTA-style trade treaty since NAFTA.
NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) joined the United States and Canada to lower-wage Mexico in one tariff-free trading area. It also strengthened corporate patent, copyright and trademark monopolies, and gave foreign investors new rights, including a special process for challenging domestic laws. KORUS, worked out during the Bush administration between Korean and U.S. trade negotiators, would do very much the same things.
South Korea, with 50 million inhabitants, is the world’s 15th largest economy, and America’s seventh largest trading partner. It’s home to 14 global corporations in the Fortune Global 500, including Samsung and Hyundai. The United States imported $39.2 billion in South Korean goods last year, and exported $28.6 billion to Korea. In other words, the U.S. had a $10.6 billion trade deficit with South Korea. A large, persistent trade deficit is a sign of an unhealthy trade relationship. When the United States imports goods from overseas that could have been made by American workers, American workers lose out.
And the official prediction of the U.S. International Trade Commission is that KORUS would worsen the U.S. trade deficit with Korea: Annual exports would rise about $5 billion, but imports would increase even more – to maybe $5.4 billion, increasing the trade deficit perhaps $400 million.
Since NAFTA passed in 1993, Congress has ratified similar trade agreements with 14 other countries. Nearly all Congressional Republicans vote for the agreements. Democrats, more sensitive to union and environmental issues, have been split.
U.S. House Democratic leaders had declared that the trade agreement with Korea was dead in the water. Dealing a blow to then-president George W. Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on May 10, 2007 that they would not schedule a ratification vote for the treaty. Now Obama, a Democrat, is saying he’ll seek ratification of the Korea treaty — just after the November election.
“We’re taking this seriously,” said Oregon Fair Trade Campaign director Arthur Stamoulis. “We think he means it.”
Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, a statewide coalition of labor and community activists fighting “job-killing” trade deals, is sponsoring an “emergency teach-in on the Korea Free Trade Agreement” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Oregon AFSCME Portland office, 6025 E Burnside.