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

Articles

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  • 26-Nov-2014 Business Korea 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.
  • 29-Apr-2014 Nontariff barriers and FTAs
    Frozen orange juice concentrate has been a thorny issue for almost a year. Washington has complained that the Korean Customs Service has been imposing unreasonable “country-of-origin” verification requirements on citrus growers from Florida. These are based on unsubstantiated suspicions that some orange juice concentrates from Florida may in fact originate from Brazil.
  • 10-Mar-2014 Yonhap Discussions entre Séoul et Washington sur une clause de l’ALE
    La Corée du Sud va négocier avec les Etats-Unis la révision de la clause sur l’arbitrage investisseur-état (ISD) de leur accord de libre-échange (ALE), a fait savoir ce dimanche une source anonyme du ministère du Commerce, de l’Industrie et de l’Energie.
  • 19-Nov-2013 Seoul Food: Why U.S. Agriculture Loves Korea’s Fresh FTA FTA increases export of US produce to S Korea
    In March 2012, the South Korea- US KORUS FTA eliminated a 24 per cent tariffs on US cherries. By the end of 2012, 5,897 tonnes of US cherries had been exported to South Korea, almost double the quantity the previous year.
  • 24-Jul-2013 U.S. car sales in S. Korea soar after FTA, official says
    U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Tuesday that U.S. automobile sales to South Korea have sharply grown since a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) went into effect in March last year.
  • 15-Mar-2013 Hankyoreh Still many unresolved issues with the KORUS FTA
    One year after the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) took effect, many issues between the two sides remain unaddressed.
  • 14-Mar-2013 Yonhap US ambassador says renegotiation of free trade deal with Seoul possible
    The US ambassador to Seoul raised the possibility of making changes to the free trade agreement with South Korea, saying a renegotiation would be possible if South Korea wants to do so.
  • 7-Feb-2013 Hankyoreh Editorial: Time to renegotiate the KORUS FTA
    It has finally been revealed in Korea that the biggest reason that the implementation of the low-carbon vehicle incentive system has been delayed to 2015 was the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). Concerns that the KORUS FTA would endanger not only legal but also legislative sovereignty and jeopardize Korea’s ability to create and enforce public policies are being realized.
  • 19-Jan-2013 Investment crucial for KORUS FTA success: official
    South Korea’s vice finance minister on Saturday stressed the importance of boosting investment between Seoul and Washington to fully utilize their free trade agreement.
  • 6-Nov-2012 La Via Campesina Understanding free trade through the KORUS FTA & the necessity of regional economic cooperation
    This booklet is based on the discussions between activists and academics during strategy meetings in Seoul and in Japan about economic cooperation in the Asia Pacific region. It focuses on the KORUS FTA which is a model of TPPA but also deals with the alternative model.
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    Links

  • AMCHAM Korea on US-Korea FTA
    The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea’s information page on the US-Korea FTA talks
  • Ben Muse - KORUS FTA
    A blog with a large number of links and references to the US-Korea FTA talks and analyses about them.
  • Contestation sud-coréenne
    Sur ce blog vous trouverez explications, actualités, photos et vidéos du mouvement de contestation en Corée du Sud contre l’importation de bœuf américain et pour la destitution du président Lee Myong Bak.
  • KAWAN
    Korean Americans Against War and Neoliberalism
  • Korea Alliance against KorUS FTA (KoA)
    The Korean Alliance against KorUS FTA is developing an English section of its website.
  • 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.
  • MORFNG
    MORFNG stands for "Mobilize and Organize to Resist the US-South Korea FTA and Neoliberal Globalization", a blog set up in May 2006.
  • No FTA
    Website against the US-Korea FTA (in Korean)
  • US-Korea FTA Business Coalition
    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.
  • US-Korea FTA Resource Center
    Website of the Korean Economic Institute on the US-Korea FTA
  • VoiceofPeople
    The VoiceofPeople is a progressive internet press outfit in Korea covering the FTA struggle.