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Public Statements

Letter to President George W. Bush, Re: Stand Up to South Korean President on Unfair Trade Agreement

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Stabenow Urges Administration to Stand Up to South Korean President on Unfair Trade Agreement

Unfair South Korean Trade Barriers Hurt American Auto Industry, Manufacturers, and Farmers

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today sent the following letter to President Bush regarding this week's visit by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. Stabenow urges the president to address unfair trade barriers in the South Korean trade agreement to create a fair and level playing field and to protect American jobs.

With imports representing a mere four percent of Korea's auto market, Korea is identified as having one of the most closed markets in the industrialized world. Currently, 750,000 South Korean automobiles have been sold in America annually while South Korea has used high tariffs and other trade barriers to limit the number of American cars they import annually to merely 6,300.

South Korea has also placed tariffs and other trade barriers on American fruit and vegetable growers, while offering no evidence such behavior will change. Furthermore, South Korean appliance product testing results remain unpublicized. Without the opportunity to evaluate the test results, American manufacturers are unable to gauge if the testing is fair. Stabenow contends that unless South Korea strengthens its commitment to opening its markets to American-made goods, the South Korean trade agreement must not be approved.

Full text of the letter follows:

April 15, 2008

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We urge you to take the opportunity during South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's upcoming visit to Washington April 16-17 to address serious problems in the trade agreement negotiated by our two countries.

For years, South Korea has used import tariffs and red tape to keep American products out of its markets. Many U.S. exporters see little hope for change in the current agreement. Indeed, it asks them to believe, without any supporting evidence, that Korea would change its ways. While there are many carrots, the agreement lacks strong enforcement mechanisms to serve as sticks should Korea not live up to its end of the bargain. American manufacturers and growers deserve fairer treatment than this.

For instance, history gives American automakers little reason to trust that their situation would improve under this agreement. Despite bilateral Memoranda of Understanding in 1995 and 1998, Korea continues to use ever-changing standards to restrict auto imports. While Americans buy more than 770,000 Korean vehicles each year, fewer than 6,300 American autos are sold in Korea. Indeed, all imports combined make up just four percent of Korea's auto market, giving it the dubious distinction of being the most closed in the developed world. Korea hasn't given American automakers any reason to believe that this time, things will be different.

The situation is also dire for U.S. appliance manufacturers. Finally, Korea has agreed to subject its domestic refrigerator makers to the same standards as importers. That sounds promising. But, Korea's testing process remains cloaked in secrecy. If Korean officials will not publicize the results of its tests so that they can be evaluated and challenged, then how can importers know that they are getting a fair deal? Let's demand that Korea show real progress, rather than ask U.S. manufacturers to take a leap of faith.

Furthermore, the trade agreement asks America's fruit and vegetable growers to wait years—decades, in some cases—before getting true relief from import tariffs as high as 50 percent. That is too much to ask of American producers of citrus fruits, apples, peaches, strawberries and pears. In addition, Korea historically has used unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) trade barriers to limit U.S. exports of fruits and vegetables. The agreement would create a committee to address these matters. But, again, it offers no hard evidence that Korea will change its ways. We are encouraged by reports indicating that you will stand up for U.S. beef in your talks with President Lee. But that is not the only unresolved issue that demands attention. All of America's farmers deserve that level of support.

With Korea's poor track record, it's no wonder that our manufacturers and growers view this trade agreement with skepticism. Fair trade levels the playing field for all comers. We cannot support this trade agreement until Korea strengthens its commitment to open its markets to American autos, appliances and specialty crops. We urge you to raise these issues with Mr. Lee during his visit.

Sincerely,

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)


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