Envoys: Approve free trade with S. Korea
Accord signals U.S. commitment to Asia
James R. Lilley, Donald Gregg, James T. Laney, Stephen W. Bosworth and Thomas C. Hubbard
August 13, 2007
On June 30, U.S. and Korean representatives signed the most significant free-trade agreement since NAFTA -- the U.S.-Korea FTA, known as KORUS. As former ambassadors to the Republic of Korea, we know that KORUS will not only bolster bilateral trade and investment ties but also reinforce our countries' important political and security partnership at a time of dramatic change in Asia.
In dollar terms, the scale of this agreement is enormous. With two-way trade totaling $78 billion last year, Korea is our seventh-largest trading partner. KORUS will effectively become the third-largest free trade area in the world -- exceeded only by the European Union and NAFTA -- and set new standards for bilateral trade agreements. Nearly 95 percent of bilateral trade in manufactured products will become duty free in three years as will two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports.
Whereas the United States has been one of the world's most open markets, Korea has until recently been one of the most closed in the industrialized world. American exporters of industrial and farm products who have long struggled to compete in Korea, therefore, have much to gain from the elimination of Korea's relatively high tariffs and complex non-tariff barriers.
The agreement also gives important new rights and protections to U.S. investors and service industries. KORUS provides U.S. financial service companies the right to full ownership of banks, insurance companies and other financial businesses in Korea and establishes rules that will allow them to compete effectively. It also provides increased access to U.S. express service companies and expands opportunities for U.S. studios to sell television programs and films to Korea.
The political and strategic arguments for this agreement are equally compelling.
Now the world's 12th-largest economy, the Republic of Korea is a vibrant democracy whose standards in the areas of labor and environmental protection are equal to our own. Korea has provided valuable economic and military support in Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The trade agreement will complement our military alliance, which continues to deter North Korean aggression as we seek to deal with its nuclear-weapons program and build a broader peace on the divided Peninsula. More broadly, KORUS will underscore our nation's commitment to preserve our leadership in the Asia-Pacific region, the world's most dynamic center of economic activity.
The economies of East Asia are rapidly integrating, with such countries as China, Japan, Korea and India now trading with each other more than they are with the rest of the world. Moreover, they are actively pursuing bilateral and regional free-trade arrangements that could leave the U.S. on the outside if we do not remain engaged. The agreement with Korea will help ensure that the U.S. remains an insider as Asian economies continue to grow and join forces. U.S. exporters, service providers and investors will have preferential access to Korea's market and an important base for business with the rest of the region. At the same time, Korea's preferential access to the U.S. market could be a powerful incentive for others in the region, such as Japan, to open their markets to the United States with free-trade agreements as comprehensive as KORUS.
For all of these reasons, we urge Congress to act quickly to approve this agreement when it is ready for submission this fall. We are well aware that certain American industries feel they are not getting all that they desire in terms of KORUS benefits.
However, the overall U.S. economy will benefit hugely from KORUS, and we urge all Americans to support this agreement and not let the pursuit of elusive perfection become the enemy of the good.
For more than 50 years, the United States' political and economic commitment to Asia has contributed to the region's stability and prosperity. Nowhere has our engagement been more positive than with the Republic of Korea, which with our help rose from the ruins of the Korean War to become a vibrant democracy and one of the largest economies in the world. The accord with Korea will strengthen America's relationship with a longtime ally and enhance our presence and influence in the region. We are convinced that America, for its own sake, must remain a leader in Asia. Ratification of this agreement is one way of ensuring that our engagement with the world's fastest-growing region will support our fundamental security and economic interests into the future.
James R. Lilley was U.S. ambassador to Korea from 1986-1989. Donald Gregg was ambassador to Korea from 1989-1993. James T. Laney was ambassador to Korea from 1993-1997. Stephen W. Bosworth was ambassador to Korea, from 1997-2001. Thomas C. Hubbard was ambassador to Korea from 2001-2004. They wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.