bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

US-Korea

The US-Korea free trade agreement (or KORUS FTA, as called in Korea) has been one of the most controversial since NAFTA, if one could measure in terms of social mobilisation. Millions of people have fought against this deal, taking to the streets and flying across the Pacific to try to defeat it.

Washington and Seoul talked about a possible free trade agreement for several years before anything got started. As it turns out, the US had four preliminary demands for the Korean government to fulfil before any FTA talks could start. The four prerequisites were:

- suspending regulations on pharmaceutical product prices so US drug firms could get a better deal in the Korean market (secured in October 2005)
- easing government regulations on gas emissions in imported US cars so that more American cars could be sold in Korea (secured in November 2005)
- resuming importation of US beef, which were stopped in 2003 because of mad cow disease in the US (agreed in January 2006) and
- reducing South Korea’s compulsory film quota for cinemas from 146 days per year to 73 days so that more American films could be shown (agreed in January 2006).

Once the Roh administration caved in to the last item, the two governments announced, on 2 February 2006, that FTA talks would start in May 2006 and end by June 2007.

The implications of the US-Korea FTA stretch far beyond Korean movie houses as the agreement would open the entire Korean economy to US corporate penetration. Korean farmers and workers organised a strenuous resistance to the deal, with support from actors, students, health professionals, consumers groups, environmental organisation, veterinarians, lawyers and other sectors. Alliances were also built with opponents to the deal in the US, including AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labour union.

The first round of negotiations took place in the US on 5-9 June 2006. Ten months and eight formal rounds (not to mention numerous side talks on side agreements) later, the deal was concluded on 2 April 2007 in Seoul, just hours after a Korean taxi driver commited self-immolation in protest to the signing.

This was not the end, however. Two weeks later, newly elected Korean President Lee Myung-Bak travelled to Washington to sign the FTA. While there, on 18 April, the two governments inked yet another side deal that the US insisted was necessary for the FTA to go through. This deal laid out explicit rules on how Korea was to open its market in the broadest way to US beef imports, despite concerns about mad cow disease. The adoption of this secret pact triggered off what became known as the "beef crisis" in Korea. Students, mothers and consumers raised a fury of candlelight protests and other actions that by June 2008 had ministers resigning and the president own tenure under threat.

After several more years of sustained opposition to the agreement, the US-Korea FTA was finally ratification by both countries’ parliaments and took effect in November 2011 However opposition to, and concerns about the FTA have not faded since it passed, with many worried about the implications of the investor-state dispute mechanism in the deal.

last update: May 2012


S. Korea discloses revised clauses of FTA with US
South Korea will collect public opinions on the recently revised free trade agreement with the United States before sending it to the parliament for approval.
WSJ: Revised KORUS FTA jeopardized by auto tariff dispute
A revised free trade agreement between South Korea and the US is reportedly in jeopardy after President Donald Trump threatened to impose heavy tariffs on auto and auto parts imports.
Elliott starts ISD suit against Korea, claiming $770m in damage
US-based hedge fund Elliott Associates has officially filed for an investor-state dispute settlement against the South Korean government seeking $770 million in compensation for the merger between two Samsung Group affiliates.
Revised KORUS FTA expected to be signed in September
South Korea and the United States are expected to sign the revised KORUS FTA in September 2018.
US fund claims $175 million from South Korea over Samsung units’ 2015 merger
New York-based hedge fund Mason Capital Management has filed a legal claim seeking at least $175 million from the South Korean government as compensation for damages it says it sustained from a 2015 merger of two Samsung Group affiliates.
Korean govt, Elliott begin pretrial negotiations on June 14
The South Korean government and Elliott Management next week will enter negotiation for an out-of-court settlement over the U.S. activist fund’s $670 million damage claim for the former administration’s interference in the 2015 merger between Samsung units.
South Korean car exports to US falling despite KORUS FTA
The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade (KIET) said in its report that the KORUS FTA is rapidly losing its positive effects in terms of South Korea’s car exports to the United States.
Elliott seeks $670 mil. compensation from gov’t over Samsung C&T merger
Elliott Associates is demanding more than $670 million in compensation from the government for losses and damages it claims to have suffered regarding the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries in 2015.
Korea, US made ’progress’ on details in revised FTA draft: minister
South Korea and the United States have made progress on the final details of a revised free trade agreement before a formal signing after they agreed in principle on major issues last month, Seoul’s commerce minister said Monday.
KORUS FTA causes major losses to Korean red meat, soybean industry
South Korea’s agriculture, livestock, and seafood industries suffered around one trillion won (about $1 billion) in production losses in the five years after the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) took effect, a report shows.

    Links


  • AMCHAM Korea
    The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea
  • Ben Muse - KORUS FTA
    A blog with a large number of links and references to the US-Korea FTA talks and analyses about them.
  • KAWAN
    Korean Americans Against War and Neoliberalism
  • Korea Policy Institute
    The US-based Korea Policy Institute produces policy briefs, organizes Congressional press briefings and sponsors policy roundtable on the proposed US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement.
  • Korean Civil Society Coalition against KORUS FTA on Intellectual Property Rigthts
    Korean Civil Society Coalition against KORUS FTA on Intellectual Property Rigthts (KCSC) is deeply worried about the Korea-US FTA negotiations especially on the issue of IPRs such as copyright, patent and trademark and strongly opposes the whole process of Korea-US FTA negotiations.
  • US-Korea FTA Business Council
    The US-Korea FTA Business Coalition is a group of over 100 leading US companies and trade associations that strongly support the conclusion and passage of a free trade agreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea.
  • VoiceofPeople
    The VoiceofPeople is a progressive internet press outfit in Korea covering the FTA struggle.