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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


40,000 against the KORUS FTA
Tens of thousands of laborers hold a “Nationwide Workers’ Rally” hosted by Korea Confederation of Trade Unions in front of Seoul City Hall, Nov. 13 against the far-reaching implications of the Korea-US FTA
American for-profit hospitals to expand under KORUS FTA: report
With the passage of the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), the American medical industry expects to widen its opportunities to establish for-profit hospitals in South Korea in addition to limiting domestic authority to close them once they are established, according to a report by the US Department of Commerce released Sunday.
S. Koreans demand rejection of US free trade pact
Tens of thousands of South Koreans, most of them members of trade unions and farmers, staged a rally on Sunday against a free trade deal with the United States, vowing to block what they called a “pernicious” pact.
Kang: Will fight Korea-US FTA to the end
“I believe the Korea-US FTA is a clear infringement on Korea’s sovereignty,” Kang Ki-kab said. “Foreign investors will, I would say, rule the country.”
South Korea delays vote on free-trade pact
South Korea’s ruling party on Thursday deferred ratifying the country’s free-trade agreement with the United States for the second week in a row, aiming to strike a deal with opposition politicians to avoid a violent protest that would mar a vote.
Justice Ministry’s KORUS FTA warning
The Ministry of Justice submitted a formal opinion strongly recommending caution with regard to the investor-state dispute (ISD) system, a key item of contention with the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement.
New Seoul mayor speaks out against FTA with US
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has submitted an official opinion that the city opposes the Korea-US free trade agreement on Monday.
Korea: Prosecution vows stern actions against FTA protesters
Korean prosecutors said Monday they will resort to arrests and physical detention in dealing with protesters against the country’s long-stalled free trade agreement with the US.
FTA wrangling heats up outside Assembly
The main opposition Democratic Party stepped up its public campaign against the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement over the weekend, as the ruling Grand National Party mulled pushing a final vote at a plenary session Wednesday.
S.Korean parliament frozen over FTA with US
Confrontation at South Korea’s parliament over a free trade deal with the United States showed no sign of easing Friday, as some opposition lawmakers took to the streets while others continued sit-ins.

    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.