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Corporate Win, Loss for the 99%: U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement Takes Effect

“Just how damaging this deal is to the 99 percent in both countries has been repeatedly revealed"

- Common Dreams staff

The U.S.- Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) takes effect today, and is being met with heated protests over the deal's rewarding the interests of big business while crushing the 99%.  Messaging that the agreement will create jobs has been slammed as "some rosy fantasy" fabricated by multinational corporations.

Activists in Seoul today protesting the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (photo: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won) The deal means that almost 80 percent of U.S. exports of industrial products to Korea are now duty-free and nearly two-thirds of U.S. exports of agricultural products to Korea are now duty-free.

Agence France-Presse reports:

The agreement was originally signed in July 2007 but was approved by the US Congress only last October, after a partial renegotiation to address US auto industry complaints.

South Korea's parliament approved it last November despite vehement protests from opposition lawmakers, one of whom exploded a tear gas canister in the assembly.

Critics say the deal is lop-sided and serves big business at the expense of South Korea's farmers and service industries.

"This is a lose-lose deal that will destroy jobs in both countries."

PressTV reports that thousands gathered in Seoul hours before the agreement officially went into effect to protest the agreement:

About 1,200 activists rallied in downtown Seoul on Wednesday, chanting slogans against the deal and demanding the resignation of President Lee Myung-Bak.

The rally, which was also attended by members of major opposition parties, came hours before the agreement came into force at midnight local time.

Protesters said the deal would crush South Korea's economy and hurt people's livelihood. They also complained that it would damage the country's farming and service industries by flooding the market with cheaper imports.

The activists vowed to keep protesting until the government nullifies the agreement.

Public Citizen writes that the trade deal was rushed to beat the Korean parliamentary elections in April and notes that polls showed the elections would "elevate a political party that has vowed to terminate the pact unless the 'investor-state' enforcement system is altered."

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, stated that the KORUS is a bad deal for "99%" in both the U.S. and South Korea:

“Just how damaging this deal is to the 99 percent in both countries has been repeatedly revealed from this latest disgrace of trying to outrun the democratic accountability of Korea’s election to the White House, notably canceling a public bill-signing ceremony after the FTA was passed here. By rushing the implementation, the Obama administration is trying to cement in the extreme NAFTA-style corporate investor privileges that candidate Obama pledged would not be included in his trade agreements and that a large majority of Korea’s parliament also opposes.”

“Just how damaging this deal is to the 99 percent in both countries has been repeatedly revealed..."

While U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement today, “Starting today, Korea’s doors are wide open for Made-In-America exports that will support well-paying jobs here at home," research from the Economic Policy Institute in July of 2010 shows that KORUS will bring a loss of 159,000 American jobs:

Unlike USITC’s [U.S. International Trade Commission's] forecast of a small positive impact, EPI’s research shows it will increase the U.S. trade deficit with Korea by about $16.7 billion, and displace about 159,000 American jobs within the first seven years after it takes effect.

Writing on The Hill today, Chun Jung-bae, member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea and member of the Supreme Council of the Democratic Party of Korea, reiterates that job creation from KORUS is "some rosy fantasy" and "is a fabrication of multinational corporations."

There is some rosy fantasy that the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement will create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs in both countries and strengthen and expand the U.S. relationship with Korea. This is a fabrication of multinational corporations that have no allegiance to either country. As a member of the Korean National Assembly, I would like to set the record straight: In reality, the deal is lose-lose. [...]

[T]his trade deal will have a negative impact on the middle-class in the U.S. and Korea. This is a lose-lose deal that will destroy jobs in both countries. How can that be? The deal is expected to increase the overall U.S. trade deficit, which would lead to net job loss in the U.S. But it is the deal’s low domestic content requirement that would encourage both U.S. and Korean corporations to offshore jobs to low-wage countries.

NO KORUS FTAAnti-KORUS protest from 2011 (photo: mj jin lee)

Christine Ahn and Albie Miles have previously written on the devastation the agreement would bring to Koreans:

The Korea FTA is the latest in a long history of aggressive U.S. foreign policies toward Korea that have significantly undermined Korean farmers. The current FTA will further erode Korea’s agricultural sector and food security while contributing to its environmental degradation through reduced emission standards and potential exposure to contaminated U.S. beef and transgenic crops. With this FTA, Koreans also stand to lose their national healthcare system as U.S. financial services and pharmaceutical firms await the opportunity to use the Investor to State Dispute (ISD) mechanisms to sue governments for infringing on their right to profit.

Ahn and Miles also reported that the trade agreement may mean more genetically modified food going to South Korea:

It's also unclear how much the FTA has been used to dismantle South Korea’s 2000 genetic engineering (GE) labeling law and undermine its commitment to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international supplemental agreement to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The Cartagena Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from risks posed by transgenic organisms resulting from biotechnology. Under the protocol, developing nations can restrict and/or label GE organisms to protect their biodiversity and/or public health if inadequate scientific evidence guarantees that a product is safe. The FTA negotiations overturned Korea’s 2000 GE labeling law that had largely kept transgenic imports out of Korea’s food supply. In 2007, the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization hailed the conclusion of the Korea FTA for “providing additional market access opportunities in Korea for U.S. biotechnology companies.” It specifically lauded the U.S. agricultural negotiator for ensuring “that trade of biotech-derived crops, foods, and feeds continues without disruption.” Despite widespread opposition to GE foods in Korea, transgenic imports no longer have to be labeled.

The FTA lifted the floodgates for massive imports of GE foods and feedstock, namely U.S. GE corn. In February 2008, less than a year after the ag-biotech deal was signed, the Korean Corn Processing Industry Association purchased 697,000 metric tons of U.S. GE maize, the first major GE shipment destined for food use to arrive in Korea since 2000. Korean approvals of GE imports have since skyrocketed. By February 2008, Korea had approved 102 transgenic organisms for import as feed or food, 70 percent from U.S. firms Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical.

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