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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

Seoul inches closer to KORUS FTA endorsement
Seoul has inched closer to endorsing the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA), with the ruling camp pushing to make it a done deal by the end of the month despite resistance from the opposition parties.
Final KORUS FTA battle looms at National Assembly
Korea’s Democratic Party has set as its platform an approach of blocking the ratification of the US-Korea FTA through any means necessary if its preconditions are not met.
Assembly in deadlock over KORUS FTA
Korea’s National Assembly is locked in an impasse with the ruling and the opposition parties showing no signs of backing down from their position on the long-stalled Korea-US free trade agreement (KORUS FTA).
South Korean opposition resists US trade pact
South Korea’s opposition party has said it will resist any bid to force a sweeping free-trade agreement with the US through parliament, following ratification of the deal by US congress.
U.S.-Korea FTA to impact Taiwan: economic officials
Economic officials said Thursday that a free trade agreement (FTA) approved a day earlier between the United States and South Korea will have an impact on local companies to the tune of around US$11.84 billion per year. The Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT) said the U.S.-Korea pact will influence 34.1 percent of all Taiwan-made products exported to the U.S.
Lee invited to address US Congress
President Lee Myung-bak’s upcoming state visit to the United States is expected to receive a warmer reception than ever before ahead of the impending endorsement of a free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) between the two countries.
Korea-US FTA to cause large reduction of farm production
The implementation of the signed free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States will likely cause billions of dollars in damages to South Korea’s farming industry, a government report showed Tuesday.
US cheese companies prepare to infiltrate Korea
As Korea and the U.S. await the approval of their respective legislatures on a Free Trade Agreement, around 30 members of the US Dairy Export Council came to Korea to study and tap this promising market this week.
US Senate removes biggest hurdle to FTA ratification
The U.S. Senate has approved the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a worker training program that has been the largest stumbling block to the ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement with Korea.
Rival parties clash again over KORUS FTA
The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) clashed again Monday over when to ratify the pending Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) on the first day of the 20-day annual inspection of state affairs.


  • 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.