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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


AMCHAM to speak for Korean firms in US
The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, the largest interest group of American companies here, said Tuesday that it will bring issues affecting Korean member companies, including the Korea-US free trade agreement, to the United States government.
S.Korea, US to hold FTA feasibility meeting in Washington
South Korea and the United States will hold a third working-level meeting this week to review the feasibility of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
Korea free trade talks with US
A bilateral trade pact would further increase the trading volume and it will have the effect of cementing the Korea-US alliance, which is undergoing a fundamental change amid the US move to adapt its military to new security challenges such as terrorism.
US manufacturers group to call for FTA with S. Korea
After picking South Korea, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and Egypt as potential FTA partners, the National Association of Manufacturers of America (NAM) will soon recommend the Bush administration and US lawmakers to seek free trade accords with the countries.
New head of AMCHAM pushes treaty on investment
In his first address as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, Wayne Chumley said yesterday that the United States and Korea needed to make progress on a free trade agreement this year.
Prospects for Korea-US free trade agreement
While there have been suggestions that the second GW Bush administration may consider an FTA with Korea, any such agreement would be an uphill battle for several reasons.
S. Korea, US to hold preliminary meeting to explore FTA
South Korea and the United States will hold working level meetings early next year to explore the feasibility of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries
Korea must choose between FTA and screen quota: US Ambassador
US ambassador to Korea Christopher Hill said on Monday that the Korean government and people had to choose between an FTA and Korea’s screen quota system.
Korean screen quota system in dispute - again
The dispute about Korea`s screen quota system is flaring up again, with government officials squaring off against the local movie industry over whether the "protectionist" measure should be scrapped.
US envoy stresses need for FTA with Korea
U.S. Ambassador to Korea Christopher R. Hill called for the quick conclusion of a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and the abolishment of the screen quota system during the General Membership Meeting with American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) Tuesday at Shilla Hotel in central Seoul.

    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.