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Support free-trade talks with S. Korea

The Enquirer, Cincinnati

Support free-trade talks with S. Korea


4 February 2006

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman’s newly announced plan to pursue a sweeping free trade agreement with South Korea is a bold step that, if done fairly, would be a win-win for the two nations, with long-term benefits for our economy.

In our area, the pact could bring expanded opportunities to sell our goods overseas, particularly agricultural products and machinery. U.S. consumers could see prices of Korean-made products, such as electronics and cars, drop dramatically.

Americans should support the Korean FTA process and make sure it doesn’t become a partisan football in Congress this year. The proposal to remove tariffs and non-tariff barriers would dwarf any such pact except the 1993 NAFTA deal among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Portman, who represented the Cincinnati-area 2nd District in the U.S. House before assuming this Cabinet-level post last year (, has been aggressive in pursuing Bush administration goals to break down trade barriers. He aims to have a deal with South Korea done by the end of the year, partly because the "fast-track" authority Congress granted President Bush is to expire in mid-2007.

Concerns that such agreements will cause U.S. jobs to go overseas, while not unfounded in some cases, are short-sighted. America’s long-term health - its continued ability to innovate, sell its goods and create wealth - depends on its being more fully engaged in the global economy.

In fact, the Korean deal would correct a huge imbalance that works against American workers. Right now, our market is far more open to Korean goods than the Korean market is to ours; Korea’s average applied tariff on U.S. goods is 11.2 percent, three times the American average. It’s far from a level playing field.

So it’s little wonder that some Koreans, particularly farmers, are nervous about or downright hostile to the proposal.

But trade need not be a zero-sum game with a "winner" and a "loser." Both sides can benefit. In America’s case, businesses and workers must learn to seize the expanded opportunity and adapt to the market it presents.

Portman’s Korea bid is a noteworthy development that could help U.S. workers and consumers in the long run.