WASHINGTON D.C.—As the U.S. passed a free trade agreement with South Korea just before its president visited the White House, supporters and opponents of the agreement discuss possible effects on both countries involved.
On 12 October 2011, Congress passed the South Korean Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), one day before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the White House.
According to President Barack Obama and supporters of KORUS, the agreement will boost U.S. exports to South Korea and keep the United States competitive.
Had Congress not passed KORUS before President Lee’s visit, supporters of the agreement told the Viễn Đông it would have been an embarrassment for the United States.
Though, opponents of KORUS feel the agreement itself is an embarrassment to the United States, stripping U.S. jobs from the American people.
If comparing KORUS to U.S. trade with China, one of the United States’ largest trading partners, opponents could have a point.
In September 2011, the OC Register reported that U.S. trade with China has cost Orange County (OC) nearly 10,000 jobs since 2001, mostly manufacturing jobs leaving Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Anaheim.
California and Texas were the two states losing the most jobs from U.S. trade with China.
Instead of opening new markets for U.S. goods, hence creating more U.S. jobs, the Register reported that U.S. trade with China actually displaces U.S. workers at home because the products they would have made in the United States are instead being made in China.
However, as the Senate failed to pass President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act (AJA) on 11 October 2011, Congress feels trade deals like KORUS could work in the AJA’s place to create American jobs.
“This agreement has been bottled up by the President for too long,” Representative of the 40th Congressional District Ed Royce was quoted in a statement on 11 October 2011. “U.S. companies are losing market share to European competitors by the day, so passage can't come soon enough.”
On 1 July 2011, the European Union (EU) established a trade agreement with South Korea, increases competition for the United States’ trading endeavors.
“This agreement will break down trade barriers and level the playing field for the 19,000 small and medium size businesses and farmers who export to South Korea,” Representative Royce continued.
As the United States already shares in political and military alliances with South Korea, supporters of KORUS tell the Viễn Đông that the United States should be economically partnered with South Korea as well.
“Just as Americans by Hyundais and Kias, I hope the South Koreans will buy more Fords, Chryslers and Chevys,” President Obama said in an opening speech at a press conference welcoming President Lee to the White House on 13 October 2011.
President Lee's replied in his speech, “It is a win-win agreement that will benefit both of our countries in countless ways…It will allow us to get ahead and stay ahead in the global markets.”
However, opponents of KORUS feel that not everyone involved in KORUS will get ahead.
Against KORUS, other free trade agreements
“Not enough Americans know about the damage that these free trade agreements will cause,” an organizer with Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, Ms. Sukjong Hong said at Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City on 11 October 2011. “It tries to institute once more the things that caused this financial crisis in the first place.”
She continued, saying KORUS could send more American jobs overseas.
Opponents of free trade agreements in general argue that such jobs often go to children or other people who are disadvantaged in the countries importing the jobs. People hired for such imported jobs are often paid less and work longer hours and in harsher conditions than people in the United States that would have otherwise received the jobs.
“It’s no good for anybody,” Ms. Sunyata Altenor, who works with the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, also said at the Occupy Wall Street protests on 11 October 2011, speaking additionally about the U.S. free trade agreements with Columbia and Panama that were passed along with KORUS.
“They [U.S. businesses]do business there [countries importing U.S. businesses]because they avoid paying a living wage, paying minimum wage or having even work environments that are healthy for the workers who are there, in order to make more profits,” she said.
What is next for KORUS? Thought to consider
President Obama must sign KORUS and South Korea’s National Assembly must approve it before it can actually go into effect.
Will KORUS have a positive, negative, or combined impact on the community?