Op-Ed - Special Letter: Korea Trade Pact Bad for State

Op-Ed

By:  Dale Kildee
Date: Aug. 5, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

Published by the Detroit News on August 5, 2010

In my hometown of Flint, the legacy from unfair trade policies is painfully clear.

After NAFTA passed in 1993, workers saw their jobs shipped overseas, leaving behind empty fields where plants used to employ thousands of people. Now, President Obama has announced plans to move forward on a U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a NAFTA-style agreement that has the potential to further erode our manufacturing base. I have always fought against unfair trade policies that tip the scales against our working families and ship jobs overseas. That is why I have written to the president to express my complete dissatisfaction with this agreement.

Our country's wrong-headed trade policies have driven our trade deficit to a staggering $42.3 billion as of May of this year, and a free trade agreement with Korea could further exacerbate this problem.

Indeed, trade with Korea is already woefully imbalanced. For years, Korea has maintained unfair trade restrictions, taking advantage of open markets for its exports and maintaining the most closed automotive market of any of the world's major auto-producing countries. In 2009, Korea exported 500,000 cars to the United States while importing only 6,000 U.S. automobiles.

Korea employs a wide variety of nontariff barriers that have successfully protected Korean auto markets from foreign competition. In an effort to bring down these barriers and open Korea's auto market to imports, the United States negotiated two bilateral auto agreements with Korea in the 1990s. While these agreements looked good on paper, they were ultimately unsuccessful. These kinds of flimsy pacts simply are not good enough -- any free trade agreement must include strong provisions to open up Korean auto markets.

The timing of this agreement is also of serious concern.

Our automakers are fighting to recover from the downturn in the economy and are making great progress. Recently, General Motors posted a profit for the first time in nearly three years and is ramping up production in our area. Flint Truck Assembly has just begun building the light-duty Chevy Silverado -- the first time the four-door version of the truck has been built in America. It is imperative that this trade agreement does not derail this progress and does no further harm to the domestic auto industry.

I am confident that U.S. auto manufacturers can compete effectively in an open and fair Korean market. However, our trade with Korea is grossly imbalanced, and the Korea FTA would do next to nothing to fix this problem.

I call on the president to fix the egregious flaws in this agreement. If these issues are not addressed, I will do everything in my power to ensure this FTA fails if it is brought before Congress.