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Prospects for Implementing the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement

October 2010

The KORUS FTA was signed on June 30, 2007, but has not yet been sent to Congress for ratification. US concerns about auto and beef trade are the main stumbling blocks. At the Toronto G-20 Summit in June 2010, Presidents Obama and Lee Myung Bak tasked their officials to find solutions by the November Seoul G-20 Summit. If a deal is struck, implementing legislation could be submitted to Congress in early 2011.

This paper assesses the problems and potential solutions to these problems and options for legislative action. The author concludes that, once submitted, the KORUS FTA will be approved for three reasons-all related to actions taken by other countries that could adversely affect US commercial and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The first reason is to demonstrate support for a strong ally facing North Korean aggression. Neither country wants to let a few provisions in a major trade agreement create friction in a strategically important bilateral alliance. The second reason is to secure a level playing field for US exporters in the Korean market. The imminent signing of the Korea-EU FTA, an agreement modeled on and largely comparable to the KORUS FTA, increases the urgency of Congressional action on the KORUS FTA since US and EU exports compete for sales in the Korean market. The third reason relates to the ability of US officials to advance US economic interests through an effective trade policy. Implementing KORUS is important to help maintain the credibility of US trade initiatives that seek to boost US exports, constrain Chinese economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and advance overall US foreign policy and security interests.