Despite a breakdown over agricultural subsidies during the 2003 World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, the United States continues to pursue its own trade agreements. Talks have continued in bilateral-fashion as the United States Trade Representative continues to work on expanding export markets for U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods.
Currently, three trade agreements are in the works. Ratification of pacts with Columbia and Panama are still pending but the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS FTA, saw some movement this week after languishing for nearly three years. Trade representatives from both countries signed amendments to the agreement which now only lacks approval by the U.S. Congress and the Korean National Assembly. While contentious disagreement over American cars and beef delayed the deal, officials this week approved the largest trade pact since the nearly two-decade old North American Free Trade Agreement.
President Barack Obama: (date key: 1/25/2011) …last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.
During initial negotiations for the Korus FTA, Korean trade officials stated there would be NO renegotiations once the details were decided. But Korean import tariffs on U.S. beef and automobiles became insurmountable stumbling blocks. The inability to ratify the document sent both sides back to the table. This week, Korean and U.S. trade representatives signed the landmark free trade agreement.
The log-jam was broken when Korean officials agreed to drop tariffs on incoming U.S. automobiles in exchange for leaving tariffs on U.S. pork imports in place for two years LONGER than specified in the original treaty. There is no word on what will be done about import tariffs on U.S. beef.
Saying they are willing to wait until 2016 for all pork import taxes to be lifted, representatives from the National Pork Producers Council are calling the deal "a good one."
According to economists at Iowa State University, the Korus FTA will create 9,000 jobs and make South Korea the single largest recipient of U.S. pork exports over the next ten years. At 600,000 metric tons, sales will be almost double what is currently purchased by Japan – the top market for U.S. pork.
For U.S. politicians, there is a time crunch. Jobs and market share may be lost if the agreement is not ratified by July 1st when a trade pact between Korea and the European Union goes into effect.