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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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April 05, 2011

Korea FTA Benefits China at the Expense of U.S. and South Korean Workers

We’re continuing our series of facts in response to the Korean Embassy’s misleading claims on the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Our full response can be viewed here. This is the final installment, focusing on the Korea FTA’s lax domestic content requirements for autos.

Lori Wallach’s Huffington Post piece: “The FTA allows its benefits to accrue to autos that contain only 35 percent U.S. or Korean content.”

Korean Embassy’s claim: “The KORUS FTA stipulates that 35% of the components used to manufacture products (under the build-up method/net cost method) or 55% of the components of the final product (using the build-down method) must originate in one of the two countries to be eligible for preferential treatment. A 45% maximum foreign content rule under the Korea-EU FTA corresponds with the minimum 55% domestic contents rule under the KORUS FTA (using the builddown method). Also, the EU’s standard foreign content rule was 40%, not 45%.” Elsewhere, the Embassy has gone further, stating that the build-up and build-down methods “are supposed to be equivalent to each other. The 20% difference between the methodologies reflects the operation cost in the final product processing stage and manufacturers’ dividends, etc.”[i]

Facts: These two methods are not equivalent. Multinational companies have pushed for rules that intentionally allow them the discretion to include as much as 65 percent content from outside the FTA countries, at the expense of workers in both the U.S. and South Korea.

As the United Autoworkers and others have repeatedly noted, Korean automakers have the option to use the “build-up” method to calculate the domestic value content under the US-Korea FTA, which requires that only 35 percent of the value of the motor vehicle be comprised of domestic parts to qualify for FTA benefits. This method allows – but does not require – that importers deduct certain “fringe” costs like transportation when calculating the maximum permissible share of content from non-FTA countries.[ii]

The EU-Korea FTA provides for only one way for automakers to calculate the domestic value content. Under the EU-Korea FTA, a Korean motor vehicle qualifies for FTA benefits only if its foreign content comprises 45 percent or less of the vehicle.[iii] Put differently, the minimum domestic value content for the EU-Korea FTA is 55 percent. Given that the EU-Korea FTA mandates that 55 percent of the value of a Korean auto must be of domestic components, while the “build up” method of the US-Korea FTA mandates that only 35 percent of the value of a Korean auto must be of domestic components, Korean automakers will be able to put a much greater portion of Chinese components into vehicles destined for the United States, undercutting auto production in the United States.

Members of Congress and fair trade groups have long raised concerns about the low percentage of originating content required for goods to qualify for duty-free FTA treatment. The Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy has warned that the lax rules of origin in the Peru, Oman, and Korea FTAs would allow large quantities of goods from third countries such as China to enter the United States duty-free under the FTAs.[iv] Reports on previous FTAs have made similar points.[v] However, industry representatives have successfully pushed the U.S. Trade Representative to include lax rules of origin in FTAs.[vi]



[i] http://www.koreauspartnership.org/pdf/Other%20Issues.pdf

[ii] See Annex 6-A of the Korea FTA,  Available at: http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/agreements/fta/korus/asset_upload_file680_12704.pdf. See also: International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), “The Social and Economic Impact of the US-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA),” September 14, 2010, Available at: http://www.imfmetal.org/files/10102608591310005/UAW_KORUS_FTA_ENGLISH.pdf

[iii] See Protocol 1 of the E.U.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, Available at: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/html/145192.htm

[iv] Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, “The U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement,” November 15, 2005, at 9, Available at: www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/omanLACreport_11152005.pdf

Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, “The U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement,” February 1, 2006, at 1, Available at: www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/peruLACreport_02012006.pdf

Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, “The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement,” April 27, 2007, at 28, Available at: http://ustraderep.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Republic_of_Korea_FTA/Reports/asset_upload_file698_12781.pdf

[v] See Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, “The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement,” February 28, 2003, at 14-15. Available at: http://ustraderep.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Singapore_FTA/Reports/asset_upload_file77_3220.pdf

[vi] For example, the Industry Sector Advisory Committee on Transportation, Construction, Mining, and Agricultural Equipment urged USTR to allow the build-down method to calculate the domestic content for autos in the Chile FTA after the initial draft agreement only included the build-up method. The final agreement allowed the both methods. See ISAC 16, “Report for the Chile Free Trade Agreement,” February 2003, at 6; USITC, “U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement: Potential Economywide and Selected Sectoral Effects,” June 2003, at 80; Chapter 4 of U.S.-Korea FTA.

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