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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

Photo: Joe Mabel / CC BY-SA 3.0

All-night rally to protest screen quota begins
Members of the local film industry and civil activists began in Seoul Monday a 146 day all-night rally in protest to the government’s decision to halve the screen quota system.
Cabinet endorses plan to halve screen quota
A controversial plan reducing the country’s screen quota by half has been approved by the government amid fierce protests from the film industry.
Service sector opening priority in ROK-US FTA
Negotiation is defined as a process whereby interested parties resolve disputes or agree on courses of action on the basis of mutual benefits. Given this definition, negotiation occurs in all types of relations among human beings.
State growers want to dismantle import barriers - Korea trade talks starting
Washington farmers hope a possible free trade agreement will pry open South Korea’s trade barriers against such produce as apples, pears and potatoes.
US investors seek to secure the level of rights enjoyed in their own country
The USTR clearly stated in a negotiation report submitted to the US Congress that American investors should be able to enjoy the same rights in Korea as the ones that they enjoy in the US according to legal principles and practices.
Start of talks: Free trade accord should be based on popular support
The first preliminary meeting for a free trade agreement between Korea and the United States Monday marks the onset of the FTA process.
US negotiator seeks ’good’ and ’fair’ free trade agreement with South Korea
The chief U.S. negotiator in free trade talks with South Korea said Tuesday she is under orders to conclude an agreement by the end of this year good enough for lawmakers in Washington to accept.
Support Roh on trade pact
Korea and the United States held their first preparatory talks on a free trade agreement in Seoul yesterday. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome during the formal negotiations, but the mere fact the talks have officially begun is meaningful in itself.
North Korean-made sneakers may trip $29 billion US trade pact
North Korean workers stitching Made in Korea labels on $150 sneakers may hold the key to a $29 billion free-trade agreement between the US and South Korea, the biggest US accord in a decade.
Trade: FTA talks to start
South Korea’s efforts to secure free-trade agreements (FTAs) have received a boost with the announcement of the launch of talks with the US. But starting talks is one thing; successfully concluding a deal will prove challenging.


  • 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.
    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.