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Why the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement is Helping Derail Obama’s Trade Agenda

As President Obama departs on his long-delayed trip to Asia, his job-killing trade agenda is being blocked by “fast track” bills that ironically were supposed to railroad trade agreements through Congress.

As President Obama departs on his long-delayed trip to Asia, his job-killing trade agenda is being blocked by “fast track” bills that ironically were supposed to railroad trade agreements through Congress. The trip is widely seen as an effort to breathe new life into the four-year old negotiations on theTrans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yet, the “fast track” bills are all but dead due to the broken promises of past trade deals and the upcoming mid-term elections. For example, new data shows that the two-year old U.S. Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has exacerbated our widening trade deficit – directly contradicting previous promises that it would improve our trade deficit and create more jobs.

The data on the US-Korea FTA adds more weight to the argument that Congress should not even bring TPP up for consideration unless every aspect of the agreement can be openly debated and, if needed, modified to serve the interests of all Americans. In fact, behind all the smoke and mirrors, the failure of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is so extreme that the U.S. is holding up South Korea’s joining TPP because of it.

Despite promises that the US-Korea FTA would “add $10 billion to $12 billion to annual U.S. Gross Domestic Product and up to $11 billion in annual merchandise exports to Korea” while creating tens of thousands of new jobs, American workers and businesses are clearly losing.

  • Imports from Korea have increased and the U.S. monthly trade deficit with Korea has swelled 47 percent to $20 billion annually. USTR blames the trade deficit with Korea on “decreases in corn and fossil fuel exports” but even discounting both corn and fossil fuels, U.S. monthly exports to Korea still fell under the FTA.
  • U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) data show U.S. average monthly goods exports to Korea are down 11 percent.
  • Even as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative points to auto exports as a bright spot, it was the Korean auto industry that recorded the highest growth rate of any specific segment with $18.2 billion compared to only $1.2 billion for the U.S. auto industry.
  • Average monthly exports of all U.S. agricultural products to Korea have fallen 41 percent under the FTA. While some agricultural sectors have seen gains, U.S. meat producers have lost a combined $442 million in poultry, pork and beef exports to Korea.
  • The Korea FTA has cost more than 50,000 U.S. jobs and has negatively impacted every corner of the country, like in Connecticut where helicopter exports have plummeted 81 percent.

These are just a few examples of the trade deal President Obama will try to hold up as an example of why Congress and the American people should support TPP, a massive 12-nation trade pact that would encompass 40 percent of global GDP. While the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are the current TPP nations, the Philippines, South Korea and even China have expressed interest in joining the negotiations.

Additionally, the ongoing secrecy of negotiations that are dominated by corporate interests, and increasing opposition to a pact that includes weak environmental standards, threats to sovereignty, accelerated job loss and much more has resulted in a strong majority of Americans opposing legislation in Congress to grant fast-track authority to President Obama.

This broad bipartisan opposition means it is both good policy and good politics for Members of Congress to oppose the TPP trade pact. The TPP – just like NAFTA, allowing China into the WTO and, most recently, the US-Korea FTA – will become the next in the long line of broken trade agreements that hurt workers and Main Street businesses, no matter what spin comes out of this sales trip.

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