The recent collapse of international trade talks in Geneva makes it clear that the United States must become more bullish in forging ahead with its own trade agreements with developing nations. On the heels of President Bush’s trip to South Korea, where President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak reiterated their support for building robust bilateral trade, our Congress needs to take serious steps toward enacting a free trade agreement with this vital and emerging trade partner. The Administration is hoping that the President’s trip to Korea served as a catalyst for Congress to see the real benefits of free trade with South Korea and enact an agreement that has been sitting in limbo—mired in partisan debate—since the summer of last year.
South Korea is a key ally with strong diplomatic ties to the United States. Improving trade relations with our seventh largest international partner—a country that now produces a trillion dollar economy—would bring new energy and vitality to a U.S. – Korea partnership and could help Korea become our third-largest free trade partner — exceeded only by the European Union and NAFTA.
Five of my colleagues, all former Ambassadors to Korea—James R. Lilley, Donald Gregg, James T. Laney, Thomas Hubbard and Stephen W. Bosworth—believe that this agreement will help our economy by promoting bilateral trade and investment with Korea and will greatly help stabilize South East Asia and could improve global security.
In addition, other nations are eyeing South Korea as fertile trade ground. China and India are making aggressive moves to try to gain access to Korea’s 49 million consumers. Michael Fortier, Canada’s International Trade Minister, just announced his hopes that a trade agreement between Canada and South Korea would, “move ahead” in the coming months. The simple fact is, if we don’t act quickly to capitalize on this emerging market, the United States will lose even more of its edge in a fiercely competitive global economy. A free trade agreement with Korea would lay waste to many of the tariffs that presently slow U.S exports to Korea. Under a new trade agreement, nearly 95 percent of bilateral trade in manufactured products will become duty free in three years and more than half of all farm products exported to Korea would become duty free immediately.
According to the U.S. trade figures, South Korea’s average tariff on U.S. farm goods is more than 50 percent. Korea, for example, has severe restrictions on imported U.S. beef and the highest tariffs on beef in the world at 40 percent. By dropping these restrictions and barriers, the Agreement could bring U.S. cattleman an extra one billion dollars annually. Korea’s average applied tariff on imported goods is also prohibitively high, amounting to three times more than the United States. It doesn’t take an economics professor to realize that striking a deal to reduce or outright eliminate the tariffs on American goods will greatly increase exports and add billions more dollars into the U.S. economy.
This Agreement is also crucial to California’s economic future. Our state exported nearly seven billion dollars in goods to South Korea in 2006, and similar amounts last year. Any number of goods and services important to California’s economy will benefit from the agreement. Combined, California machinery manufactures and transportation equipment—both highly important industries in the state—amounted to nearly $2.4 billion in exports to Korea. Once tariffs on these goods as high as eight percent are largely abolished, along with similar tariffs on other industrial goods, California industry will find much increased revenues in the open markets of Korea.
California is not the only state that will benefit from the Korean Free Trade Agreement, and Congress should not let this Agreement simmer on a back burner for the remainder of this year. Our elected leaders should approve a trade deal that will further the reach of U.S goods into foreign markets. The United States has an opportunity to generate billions in revenue, open previously restricted channels into one of the world’s largest economies and offer U.S. companies and investors a crucial footing in a region essential to future economic growth.