The Korea FTA is Lose-Lose for the U.S. and Korea: The Facts
The Korean Embassy recently released claims purporting to rebut the statements in Lori Wallach’s February 15, 2011 Huffington Post piece about the lose-lose nature of the NAFTA-style deal with South Korea. These statements do not reveal the full truth of the matter and could leave a mistaken impression of the so-called “free trade agreement” (FTA) with Korea and its consequences. We’ll be posting the facts in response to the Korean Embassy’s misleading claims throughout the week.
THE FTA, FINANCIAL DEREGULATION AND WEAK LABOR RIGHTS
Korean Embassy does not even dispute that the Korea FTA could worsen financial stability and undermine labor rights. Wallach wrote that, “Another issue intensifying opposition to the FTA in Korea is the pact’s pre-crisis era financial deregulation requirements. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis wiped out decades of improvements to Korean living standards, Korea's policy response to the recent global crisis was forceful. Yet, aspects of both Korean and U.S. financial regulation would newly be exposed to direct challenge by the very firms that wrecked the global economy. Finally, the Korean union members on the delegation clearly shocked many of their audiences with their stories of how South Korean labor laws allow for strikers to be arrested for, well, striking and also allow individual strikers to be sued for compensation by their employers for lost profits.” The Korean Embassy does not rebut any of these points in their response to Wallach.
THE KOREA FTA’S DAMAGE TO THE U.S. AUTO SECTOR
Lori Wallach’s Huffington Post piece: “…the ITC [International Trade Commission] study showed that the (overall) U.S. deficit in autos and auto parts would increase by at least $531 million under the pact.”
Korean Embassy’s claim: “The ITC study predicted that the KORUS FTA would increase U.S. auto exports to Korea by 45.5 percent to 58.9 percent and auto imports from Korea by 9.1 percent to 12.0 percent. At the request of the House Ways and Means Committee, the ITC is investigating potential effects on the U.S. auto industry of FTA modifications agreed upon in December 2010. The ITC expects to submit its findings to the Committee by March 15, 2011.”
Facts: Playing with percentages obscures the projected worsening of the auto trade deficit. The embassy’s use of percentage gains versus the net balance or quantities of vehicles obscures the reality of the data. The USITC's prediction that exports of U.S. autos to Korea would increase by 46-59 percent seems impressive at first glance, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the very low starting point of U.S. exports to Korea (about 6,000 vehicles in 2009) means that this percentage increase is small potatoes that will be overwhelmed by the huge increase in Korean auto exports (at about 500,000 in 2009) to the United States projected to occur under the FTA. In the USITC study, U.S. auto exports to Korea start at only $0.7 billion, but Korean auto exports to the United States start at $14.5 billion. Thus, an increase in U.S. auto exports of 46-59 percent results in $294-381 million in greater auto exports, but the increase of 9-12 percent for imports of Korean autos leads to a $1,324-1,737 million import increase, dwarfing the U.S. exports and resulting in a net increase in the auto trade deficit with Korea of $1,030-1,356 million. (Note that due to trade diversion effects, the USITC found that the total increase in the U.S. auto trade deficit with the world is less than the increased deficit with Korea itself.)