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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-People Struggle against FTA declared in S. Korea
Representatives of south Korean civic and social organizations reportedly called a press conference on March 28 to declare the inauguration of the "Headquarters of the All-people Movement for Checking the Conclusion of FTA."
Former presidential aide slams FTA talks with US
A former aide to President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday denounced the president’s push for a free trade agreement (FTA) deal with the United States as a "grave blunder" that could endanger the Roh regime and the entire Korean economy.
’Spring struggle’: Industrial peace determines nation’s economic future
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has announced it would stage a general strike in April 3-14 in protest of parliament’s passage of a bill that labor thinks unfavorable to irregular workers and the government’s "labor road map," followed by walkouts of some industrial unions. KCTU also opposes the Korea-US free trade agreement, while calling for the provision of free medical and educational services.
Civil society, trade and the US-ROK relationship
Remarks by Alexander Vershbow, US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
US FTA set to impact entertainment industry
Korean culture and entertainment industries will suffer considerable damage from a Korea-US free trade agreement (FTA), a local think tank warned Friday.
’Fisheries could lose W80 billion under US FTA’
Once tariffs are removed under a putative free-trade agreement with the US, Korea’s domestic fishing industry could lose between W51.1 billion (US$51 million) and W84.9 billion (US$87 million).
FTA Watch statement: In support of Korean people’s struggle against the Korea-US FTA
Although Thailand and South Korea are different in terms of development, people in both countries share a common demand for the protection of their right to affordable medicines and treatment.
US industry’s free trade wish list
With Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks scheduled to start in May, representatives from US industries bombarded the US government with their own wishes for a Korea-US FTA, asking the government to open the Korean service market and eliminate market regulations.
Korea set to drive hard bargain on shipping, textiles in FTA
South Korea should call on the United States to remove protection for its shipping industry and lower tariffs on textile and clothing imports in order to counter Washington’s demands at the upcoming free trade talks, a state-run think tank said Thursday.
US envoy upbeat on trade talks
Wendy S Cutler of the Office of the US Trade Representative said yesterday she was optimistic about a successful conclusion of free trade negotiations between the United States and Korea.


  • 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.