Support trade pact, Korea urges

Jeong Haeng Lee, left, president and CEO of the Washington United Terminal at the Port of Tacoma, gives South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-Soo, second from left, a tour Tuesday.
Jeong Haeng Lee, left, president and CEO of the Washington United Terminal at the Port of Tacoma, gives South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-Soo, second from left, a tour Tuesday. The Olympian

South Korea's ambassador to the United States, on a 50-city U.S. tour promoting a still-unratified Korea-U.S. trade pact, brought his road-show to Tacoma on Tuesday, urging Tacomans to support the treaty when it goes before Congress.

Han Duk-Soo told an audience of local Korean Americans and Tacoma business and professional people at an Eastside senior center that the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 new American jobs, bolster American exports and strengthen U.S.-Korean cultural and defense alliances.

Han said the draft agreement, reached in 2007, would eliminate tariff barriers that are putting Washington exports to Korea at a disadvantage and protect U.S. intellectual property rights in Korea.

Tacoma’s Roman Meal Co., for instance, could see the market for its healthful bread products opened up if the treaty is ratified, he said. The present 800 percent tariff on whole wheat products shipped to Korea would be phased out over the next 10 years if the trade agreement gets congressional approval.

U.S. financial institutions, law and accounting firms would see a new market emerge for their services in South Korea, he said, as the impediments against their doing business in Korea are lowered.

Washington farmers, orchardists and manufacturers could also find selling goods in Korea far easier under the treaty, he said.

Tariffs on coniferous softwood, for instance, would be eliminated. Washington corn, soybeans, wheat and potatoes would also be granted better access to Korea’s market, the ambassador predicted.

Korean duties on civilian aircraft, engines and parts, now up to 8 percent, would be eliminated under the treaty’s provisions, he said.

South Korea’s 45 percent duty on fresh apples would be stair-stepped downward over the next two decades, and the 18 percent tariff on prepared and frozen potatoes would be eliminated under the treaty’s provisions.

Congress is likely to take up the treaty after midterm elections, he said. He urged Washington residents – who will see greater export opportunities and increased trade through the ports of Seattle and Tacoma – to tell Congress to approve the pact.

The trade agreement has been stalled largely because of opposition from American unions that contend nontariff barriers including uniquely Korean auto safety standards will continue to keep American products out even if tariffs are dropped.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said recently that the agreement “would exacerbate our already lopsided trade relationship with South Korea, putting at risk thousands of good U.S. jobs in the auto, steel and other industrial sectors.”

President Obama has asked U.S. and Korea trade representatives to hammer out new solutions to those delicate issues before he attends a trade meeting in November in Seoul.

Before his speech at the Korean Women Association’s International Place housing center, Han toured the Port of Tacoma where two major Korean businesses, Hyundai Merchant Marine and Kia Motors Corp., have significant operations. Hyundai containerships call at the port, and Kia imports autos through the port.