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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


White House steps back from ending Korea trade pact
After intense resistance from Capitol Hill and business groups, Trump administration tells lawmakers a withdrawal isn’t a priority
US Chamber opposes strongly withdrawal from KORUS FTA
The US Chamber of Commerce issues a statement opposing US withdrawal from KORUS, says it would not create a single American job
US demands agro tariffs be lifted
The United States has demanded South Korea eliminate all tariffs on US agricultural goods, according to a news report.
Trump says he’s looking into South Korea trade accord future
President Donald Trump said he would discuss the future of the US-South Korea free-trade agreement with his advisers following a newspaper report that he’s considering terminating the pact.
Pharmaceutical prices, intellectual property rights emerge as key issues in KORUS FTA discussions
Through the KORUS revision, the US is openly seeking to bridge its trade deficit with Korea by renegotiating specific terms for individual product categories.
S.Korea trade minister says no agreement at talks with US on FTA
South Korea’s trade minister said on Tuesday at the conclusion of trade talks with the United States that the two sides failed to reach agreement on how to move forward on discussions over the possibility of amending the five-year-old free trade deal.
Trump’s penchant for deal-making evident in push to renegotiate KORUS
The Moon administration needs to stand up to Trump with the confidence of a party ready to accept termination of the agreement, writes The Hankyoreh
US, South Korea to start talks Tuesday in Seoul on trade pact
The United States plans to start negotiations with South Korea in Seoul on amending a five-year-old free trade agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said.
USTR seeks advisers’ opinions on amending trade pact with S. Korea by Aug. 15: report
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has asked a group of industry advisers to provide opinions on amending a bilateral trade pact with South Korea by Aug. 15.
S Korea suggests US carry out joint study on FTA’s economic effect
South Korea suggested the United States carry out a joint study on the economic impact of the Seoul-Washington free trade agreement before starting talks on its amendment, Seoul’s trade ministry here said Tuesday.

    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.