Statement from the Congressional Press Conference on the Proposed U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

Statement from the Congressional Press Conference on the Proposed U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

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Good morning. I’d like to begin by thanking Congressman Kucinich and his staff for the invitation to speak today on the likely consequences of the proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea. My name is Thomas Kim. I am the Executive Director of the Korea Policy Institute, and a professor of politics and international relations at Scripps College. KPI is an independent research and educational institute whose mission is to provide timely analysis of United States policies toward Korea and developments on the Korean peninsula. Conceived by Korean Americans who have so much at stake in the outcome of policies toward Korea, KPI seeks to draw upon the wealth of untapped knowledge and experience within Korean American communities in order to support the development of pragmatic, well-informed U.S. policies toward Korea. In the interest of promoting friendship between the peoples of the U.S. and Korea, the work of the institute is guided by the premise that a reasonable U.S. policy towards Korea must be supportive of the legitimate desires of the Korean people for peace, sovereignty, reconciliation, and the reunification of Korea.

U.S. and South Korean trade negotiators have just opened talks on a massive free trade agreement that will severely influence the lives of working people and family farmers in the U.S. and in South Korea. The opening of these talks comes during a period of strained relations between the two countries. Policy differences between the governments, particularly in their approaches to Korean unification and the North Korean nuclear crisis, have led to considerable tension between Washington and Seoul during the Bush Administration. The American president is widely unpopular in South Korea, as is the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The South Korean citizenry continues to be deeply opposed to the deployment of South Korean troops to Iraq—they constitute the third-largest military contingent behind the U.S. and Great Britain—and South Korea has not seen any evidence that the deployment of South Korean troops to Iraq has influenced the Bush Administration to take a more flexible posture toward resolving tensions with North Korea.

Rather than addressing these key ongoing challenges in the U.S.-Korea relationship—issues that are not likely to disappear—some South Korean politicians promoting the FTA speak of it as an opportunity to mend bridges between the two countries. Despite the mounting evidence from the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that NAFTA hurt ordinary Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, and the growing sense among many Democrats and some Republicans that this model simply does not work, rosy financial projections are being made by both governments as well as corporate and South Korean conglomerate (chaebol) interests about the supposed benefits of the FTA. Left unstated by advocates of the proposed FTA is the likelihood that it will further concentrate the power of multinational corporations and erode the rights of governments to determine national policies to protect the rights of workers, farmers, the environment, and cultural institutions. On the South Korean side, according to Lee Hae-Young, Professor of International Relations at Hanshin University in Seoul, the economic benefits that South Korea will gain from the FTA will be shared almost exclusively by four major conglomerates that will accrue competitive advantages in areas including electronics, digital technology, automobile, and textile industries. Sectors including, but not limited to, entertainment; services such as legal, financial, and medical services; and agriculture will suffer significant losses, if not virtual erasure.

If passed, this FTA will unquestionably impact the lives of American and Korean workers and family farmers, not to mention the communities in which they reside. Not surprisingly, significant opposition to the proposed free trade agreement is developing rapidly in South Korean civil society. Some 280 civic organizations representing millions of workers, farmers, intellectuals, professionals, artists, and citizens announced the formation of the Korean Alliance Against the Kor-US FTA, and we are joined today by some of their representatives. I would like to thank them, the representatives of the National Family Farm Coalition and the United Electrical Workers, and members of Congress in attendance for coming together to have an honest and open dialogue about the future of family farmers and ordinary working people in both countries, and thank you for your attention.

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