Korea free trade agreement draws protests in SF

January 14, 2011 7:13:22 PM PST
In December, the U.S. and South Korea reached a tentative agreement on lowering trade barriers between the two countries. The agreement ends tariffs on 95 percent of industrial and consumer trade over the next five years, but opponents fear it's a bad deal for workers in both countries.

Outside the Federal Building at Seventh and Mission streets in San Francisco, California Fair Trade Coalition Director Tim Robertson beat the drum against the proposed free trade agreement with Korea.

"It's bad for workers, it's bad for the environment," he said.

Robertson says it'll kill U.S. manufacturing jobs while growing jobs in China.

"The deal allows for up to 65 percent of Korean products to be sourced from China," he said.

Robertson says the agreement gives China a backdoor to ship more goods to the U.S. But on his trip to Korea in November, President Barack Obama said the agreement would create jobs at home.

"For America, this is a jobs strategy, because with every $1 billion we sell in exports, 5,000 jobs are supported at home," he said.

The deal calls for South Korea to cut its tariff on U.S. made cars in half, from 8 percent to 4 percent and eliminate it completely in five years. The U.S. tariff on Korean autos would remain at 2.5 percent, until the fifth year when it too would be cut completely eliminated.

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the tariff cuts will increase exports of American goods by $10 billion. While the president was in Korea, protests over the agreement rocked the capital city of Seoul. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions says the deal puts corporate profits ahead of standards for labor and wages. But in Silicon Valley, senior software specialist with Korean company Kotra, Eric Kwon, says the trade agreement will benefit Silicon Valley.

"Korean companies, many Korean companies are looking for American engineers hiring into the Korea or also opening U.S. operations here too," he said.

Kwon says the Bay Area is well-known for its software. While Korea has good hardware, like televisions and cell phones, he says the agreement will increase trade for both.

Obama plans to call for ratification of the free trade agreement when he delivers his State of the Union Address, which is scheduled for a week from next Tuesday.

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