America’s Pacific Century?

November 16, 2011 

Mahalo to Noelani Arista for pointing out this article by Tina Gerhardt, “America’s Pacific Century?”, which explains many of the trade issues surrounding the APEC, Trans-Pacific Partnership and related trade agreements in the Asia Pacific region.  It gives a good explanation of the impacts of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement:

A Harbinger of Things to Come: The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA)

On February 10, 2011, the United States and South Korea signed two agreements — amendments to the Korea U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) ratified on June 30, 2007.

The agreements — the most significant the U.S. has signed in over 16 years, since the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — reduce Korean tariffs on U.S. goods exported to Korea.

They were approved last month by Congress on October 12, 2011 and await the decision of the Korean National Assembly.

The Office of U.S. Trade Representative stated that “under the FTA, nearly 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products will become duty free within five years… and most remaining tariffs would be eliminated within 10 years.”

Additionally, the KORUS FTA will also allow greater access to the Korean financial market.

“As the first U.S. FTA with a North Asian partner,” the Office of U.S. Trade Representative stated, “the KORUS FTA is a model for trade agreements for the rest of the region, and underscores the U.S. commitment to, and engagement in, the Asia-Pacific region.”

In other words, the KORUS FTA is a harbinger of possible things to come.

Christine Ahn, Executive Director of the Korea Policy Institute, stated that “the proposed KORUS FTA undermines South Korean democracy in significant ways: it undermines approximately 180 South Korean laws.”

“In particular,” Ahn continued, “the KORUS FTA has two really negative effects: first in the pharmaceutical industry and second in the agricultural arena. Korea has a universal health care system. While it is not like Sweden’s healthcare system, it does provide basic care for everybody. As part of it, Korea has a strong generic pharmaceutical industry. Concerns abound that the KORUS FTA would drive up costs so much, that universal healthcare would be untenable and Korean health care would essentially be privatized.”

“The FTA would also negatively impact agriculture,” Ahn stated, “As anyone who has been following the World Trade Organization knows, Korean farmers have already been intensely affected by their policies.” At the 2003 WTO meeting in Cancún, Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae committed suicide at the frontline barricades to underscore the desperate situation of Korean farmers.

“The KORUS FTA would deepen this impact,” Ahn stated. “According to the Korean government’s own figures, 45% of Korean farmers would be displaced from their farms because they would not be able to compete with the U.S. subsidized agricultural industry. We have already seen this type of effect of FTAs in Mexico under NAFTA.”

If the KORUS FTA is a sign of possible things to come, so, too, are the uprisings against it. Historian and political scientist George Katsiaficas states in his forthcoming book Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: “massive protests took place against the [KORUS] FTA in December 2006″ and “polls showed over half of all Koreans opposed the agreement.”

The AFL-CIO opposed the KORUS FTA.  In August, I submitted an op ed that corrected inaccurate information put forth by some proponents of the agreement.  Representative Hanabusa was the only member of the Hawai’i Congressional delegation to vote for the KORUS FTA.