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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


Korea willing to listen to US on improving free trade
Korea is willing to be more "flexible and complementary" by further hearing out the U.S.’ suggestions on their bilateral free trade, says Minister of Trade.
Court orders release of all S. Korea-US free trade agreement negotiation documents
Trade Ministry had argued that documents must not be released to protect South Korea’s future negotiations
Trade data shows fallacy in Trump’s claims about Korea-US FTA
Korea’s government-affiliated news agency, Yonhap, engages US presidential candidate Donald Trump on who has benefitted most from the US-Korea FTA.
Korean Supreme Court opposing ISDS in KorUS FTA
When the KorUS FTA was negotiated from 2006, the Korean Supreme Court delivered its opinion against ISDS to the Korean government twice in 2006 and 2007.
Over 40 pct of local cow farms closed since KORUS FTA: report
More than four out of 10 South Korean cow farms have shut down in the last four years since the implementation of the free trade deal between Seoul and Washington.
Renegotiation of Korea-US FTA may dent alliance: Seoul officials
A demand to renegotiate the terms of a free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the United States may very well mean the end of the bilateral trade pact, if not the countries’ alliance.
U.S. animal product imports rise after FTA
Imports of animal products from the U.S. increased after a bilateral free trade agreement went into effect.
Court ordered disclosure of the negotiating documents of KorUS FTA
The Korean Administrative Court in Seoul held that the negotiating documents of the KorUS FTA be disclosed.
Nebraska farm group rips Korea free-trade pact, says it has harmed US economy
The US-Korea free trade deal, a model for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has already cost the US 85,000 jobs, according to Public Citizen.
Korea, US evaluate current state of FTA
The two sides discussed the adoption of appeal instead of a single trial in the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) but failed to reach an agreement.

    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.