Guest columnists Kristen Beifus and Stan Sorscher urge Congress to reject the renegotiated U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. She says it is bad for both countries and that the U.S. needs a new trade policy.
EARLIER this month, Kim Kyung-Ran from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions came to Seattle to explain why working families in South Korea oppose the Korea-U.S. trade agreement.
Since 2006, when this agreement was negotiated under President George W. Bush, the confederation’s external-affairs director said hundreds of thousands of people have shut down the streets of Seoul, denouncing a trade policy that compromises their environmental standards, takes away living-wage jobs and exempts foreign corporations from regulation when they do business in Korea.
South Korea has a terrific story of economic success. In the early ’60s, Korea’s living standard was well below that of Ghana. In a few decades, Korea made an impressive leap to first-world living standards.
This accomplishment had nothing to do with free trade. Instead, South Korea developed national industrial policies, which built the country’s industrial base, educated its children, invested in transportation and telecommunications, built housing and maintained important cultural values. In Korea, social and cultural values are built into the national policies.
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South Koreans have seen the effects of the North American and Central American free-trade agreements in other countries. They want to avoid that kind of job loss, environmental degradation and dislocation in their communities. They are saying no to this agreement!
Many Americans feel the same way. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 83 percent of blue-collar workers said our economy is struggling because of outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries.
The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Korea-U.S. agreement would worsen our trade deficit with Korea by $13.9 billion over the next seven years. Rising Korean imports would displace approximately 888,000 U.S. jobs over this same time. Taking into account all the products we trade with South Korea — exports and imports — the proposed trade agreement would result in a net loss of 159,000 jobs.
Similarly, the U.S. International Trade Commission predicts that jobs would be lost in high-wage industries, such as electronic equipment, motor vehicles and parts, and other transportation equipment, with deficits for these sectors totaling up to $1.8 billion.
Trade is part of our prosperity in Washington state. Workers, environmentalists, social-justice groups, family farmers and human-rights advocates fully support a trade policy that raises our standard of living and builds stronger communities in America and in the countries where we trade.
We have decades of experience with our failed “free trade” model. We know it works very well for multinational companies, but works against the public interest in America and in South Korea.
Congress is expected to consider the recently renegotiated Korea-U.S. trade agreement within the next few weeks. The first step in the right direction is to reject this agreement.
We need a new trade policy.
Kristen Beifus, left, is director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition. Stan Sorscher is a labor representative for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.