On 2nd Anniversary of Korea FTA, U.S. Exports Down, Imports Up and Trade Deficit Balloons, Fueling Congressional TPP Skepticism
U.S. Trade Deficits Have Grown More Than 440% with FTA Countries, but Declined 16% with Non-FTA Countries

Administration Uses Data Omissions and Distortions to Try to Hide Dismal Korea FTA Realities

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) disseminated a press release yesterday riddled with false claims about the record of the U.S. “free trade” agreement (FTA) with Korea, which turns two years old this week. The release attempts to obscure the fact that two years after the pact went into effect, the actual outcomes are exactly the opposite of the “more exports, more jobs” that the administration promised: U.S. monthly goods exports to Korea are down 11 percent, imports from Korea have increased and the U.S. monthly trade deficit with Korea has swelled 47 percent.

To set the record straight, here are USTR’s claims, followed by the Korea FTA’s inconvenient realities according to the official U.S. government trade data provided by the U.S. International Trade Commission. For a detailed, data-driven review of the Korea FTA’s two-year record, click here for Public Citizen’s new report: “Korea FTA Outcomes on the Pact’s Second Anniversary.”

USTR Claim: “In the two years that this landmark agreement has been in effect…exports of U.S. manufactured goods to Korea have increased” … “Made-in-America manufactured goods still grew their sales in Korea by 3 percent”

Reality: U.S. monthly exports to Korea of manufactured goods have fallen 5 percent on average relative to the year before the deal took effect. The United States has lost an average of more than $150 million each month in manufactured exports to Korea under the FTA. Manufacturing sectors that provide critical shares of U.S. exports to Korea, such as machinery and computers/electronics, have experienced steep export declines under the FTA (11 percent and 12 percent respectively). In contrast, of the four critical manufacturing sectors that have seen increases in average monthly exports to Korea under the FTA, none has experienced an increase of greater than 2 percent.

USTR Claim: “Since the Korea agreement went into effect, U.S. exports to Korea are up for our manufactured goods, including autos” (Ambassador Froman) … “overall U.S. passenger vehicle exports to Korea increased 80 percent compared to 2011, and sales of “Detroit 3” vehicles are up 40 percent.”

Reality:  Exports to Korea of U.S.-produced Fords, Chryslers and Cadillacs increased by just 3,400 vehicles from 2011 to 2013.  But given that pre-FTA exports of “Detroit 3” vehicles was also tiny – 8,252 vehicles – USTR can express the small increase of 3,400 cars as a “40 percent” gain. Meanwhile, 125,000 more Korean-produced Hyundais and Kias were imported and sold in the United States in 2013 (after the FTA) than in 2011 (before the FTA), when Hyundai and Kia imports already topped 1.1 million vehicles. Overall, while U.S. average monthly automotive exports to Korea under the FTA have been $12 million higher than the pre-FTA monthly average, average monthly automotive imports from Korea have soared by $263 million under the deal – a 19 percent increase. The tiny gains in U.S. exports have been swamped by a surge in auto imports from Korea that the administration promised would not occur because of its additional FTA auto sector measure negotiated in 2011. In January 2014, monthly automotive imports from Korea topped $2 billion for the first time on record. The post-FTA flood of automotive imports has provoked a 19 percent increase in the average monthly U.S. auto trade deficit with Korea.

USTR Claim: “…U.S. exports of a wide range of agricultural products have seen significant gains.”…  “There were also dramatic increases in U.S. exports of key agricultural products that benefit from reduced tariffs under KORUS, including dairy, wine, beer, soybean oil, fruits and nuts, among many others.”

Reality: Average monthly exports of all U.S. agricultural products to Korea have fallen 41 percent under the FTA in comparison to the year before the deal – a decline of $125 million per month. USTR omits the overall U.S. agricultural export record in its release, apparently hoping to distract from the net decline in agricultural exports by cherry picking a few products that have seen export gains. Meanwhile, some of the agricultural sectors that the administration promised would be the biggest beneficiaries of the Korea FTA – such as the meat industry – have been among the largest losers. Compared with the exports that would have been achieved at the pre-FTA average monthly level, U.S. meat producers have lost a combined $442 million in poultry, pork and beef exports to Korea in the first 22 months of the FTA – a loss of more than $20 million in meat exports every month. Since the FTA, U.S. average monthly exports of poultry to Korea have fallen 39 percent below the pre-FTA monthly average. U.S. poultry exports to Korea have been lower than the pre-FTA monthly level in every single month since the FTA’s implementation. U.S. average monthly exports of pork to Korea since the FTA have fallen 34 percent below the pre-FTA monthly average, and U.S. average monthly exports of beef to Korea have fallen 6 percent below the pre-FTA monthly average.

USTR Claim: “…Koreans are buying more U.S. services than ever…”…  “Exports of services to Korea increased an estimated 18.5 percent between 2011 and 2013, to an estimated $19.4 billion.”

Reality: Growth in U.S. services exports to Korea has actually slowed under the FTA. While U.S. services exports to Korea increased at an average quarterly rate of 3.0 percent in the year before the FTA took effect, the average quarterly growth rate has fallen to 2.3 percent since the deal’s enactment – a 24 percent drop. The pre-FTA year used as a baseline was not an anomaly – taking into account the full 13 pre-FTA years for which data are available, the long-term average pre-FTA quarterly growth rate for U.S. services exports to Korea was 2.9 percent, 21 percent higher than the post-FTA rate.

USTR Claim: “While our trade balance has been affected by decreases in corn and fossil fuel exports, changes that are due to the U.S. drought in 2012 and change in Korea’s energy mix, both of which were unrelated to the agreement” (Ambassador Froman) 

Reality: Corn and fossil fuels do not account for most of the crash in U.S. exports to Korea since the FTA. After removing corn, average monthly U.S. agricultural exports to Korea still declined under the deal. And after removing all fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), the overall post-FTA decrease in U.S. average monthly exports to Korea barely budges, shifting from an 11 percent downfall to a 10 percent downfall. Even if discounting both corn and fossil fuels, U.S. monthly exports to Korea still fell under the FTA, and the monthly trade deficit with Korea still ballooned. It is not surprising that the dismal FTA record remains without these products, given that of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, 11 of them have experienced export declines under the FTA. No product-specific anomalies can explain away what has been a broad-based downfall of U.S. exports to Korea since the pact went into effect. Those losses amount to an 11 percent decline in average monthly exports to Korea that, combined with a 4 percent increase in average monthly imports, have caused the average monthly U.S. trade deficit with Korea to swell 47 percent under the FTA. The total U.S. trade deficit with Korea under the FTA’s second year is projected to be $8.6 billion higher than in the year before the deal. Using the administration’s current export-to-job ratio, this drop in net U.S. exports to Korea in the FTA’s first two years represents the loss of more than 46,600 U.S. jobs.

USTR Claim: “Slow economic growth in Korea between 2012 and2013 dampened demand for imports”

Reality: Korea’s GDP growth rate for 2013 is estimated to be higher than in both 2012 and 2011. And in 2012 (the first year of the FTA), Korea’s gross national income grew 2.3 percent and final consumption expenditures grew 2.2 percent. Since enactment of the Korea FTA, Koreans have been purchasing more goods overall, while purchasing fewer U.S. goods.

USTR Claim: “KORUS has also improved Korea’s investment environment through strong provisions on intellectual property rights, services, and investment, supporting U.S. exports.”

Reality: The Korea FTA included extraordinary foreign investor privileges that incentivize the export of U.S. investment, not the export of U.S. products, thereby promoting the offshoring of U.S. jobs. The deal’s “investor-state” terms provide special benefits to firms that relocate abroad and eliminate many of the usual risks that make firms think twice about moving out of the United States. New incentives for U.S. firms to relocate to Korea under the pact include a guaranteed minimum standard of treatment in Korea and compensation for regulatory costs, including the right to obtain government compensation simply because a regulation is altered after a foreign investment is established. U.S. firms that offshore production to Korea are also empowered to skirt Korea’s domestic legal system and directly “sue” the government in World Bank and U.N. tribunals comprised of three private attorneys. Such extraordinary privileges have already incentivized widespread offshoring under existing U.S. FTAs.

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Richard Austin

Come November voters will re-elect the same 'ol same 'ol even though they continue to sell us down the river on "free trade" scams, and on numerous other people-helping programs.

Sadly, way too many gurus counsel us that now is not the time, or this or that is not the issue to fight back on...that we must wait. Yeah sure. How has that been working for four decades? These self-proclaimed sages tell us to pit our hopes and dreams on legislative relief. Once again, how has that been working?

Neither corporatists nor their Congressional water carriers are our salvation. A political party is not our salvation. We are our salvation! But unless we use our collective power we'll keep getting what we've been getting for a generation. What a shameful legacy to leave to our children and grandchildren.

We need to remove our blinders. We need to understand that we have the power to shut off machines, silence factories, and take to the streets in peaceful protest until justice is won. We our are salvation. Let's start with voting out Republican and Democrat anti-worker politicians this November. Then let's organize and demand the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" that is promised in the founding proclamation of U.S. independence.

Sitting on our fannies is the enemy of the constructive change we so sorely need. Agitate, educate, organize!

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