In April, I visited South Korea and met with government and military leaders to promote vital U.S. interests in East Asia. Among those priorities is the long overdue passage of the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which has been stalled in typical Washington fashion since 2007.
If ratified, KORUS will stimulate America's economic recovery -- without government spending -- by increasing U.S. exports and creating jobs in the U.S. According to analysts in the Democrat-led Senate Finance Committee, data taken from the independent, nonpartisan U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) suggest that KORUS could create up to 280,000 jobs in the United States. While conservative estimates from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative show a more modest increase of 70,000 jobs, either way you cut it, KORUS means more jobs for Americans, and that's great news for a nation that's suffered one of the longest periods of high unemployment rates since the Great Depression.
Yet KORUS isn't only about job creation--it's about free and fair trade. Right now, American workers and farmers, and the products they produce, are currently at a disadvantage against Korean-made products. The average Korean tariff for U.S. exporters is more than four times the average tariff that Korean products face in the U.S. market. While South Korea has been and will continue to be one of America's strongest allies, we simply cannot continue this unjustifiable and unfair trade imbalance.
In order to level the playing field for American businesses and manufacturers, KORUS would quickly reduce Korean tariffs on U.S. exports. ITC estimates that by addressing this trade imbalance, full implementation of KORUS would increase U.S. exports to Korea by nearly 30 percent more than imports from Korea would increase in the U.S., an amount equaling more than $10 billion. In plain English: America would gain, not lose, from this trade agreement.
Unfortunately, time is not on our side. While Washington sits on the sidelines, our global competitors have thrown their hats in the ring, working to ensure increased access to South Korea's $1 trillion economy -- the twelfth largest in the world --and reap the many benefits that this important market has to offer. In fact, just last month, South Korea gave the green light on its trade agreement with the European Union, which is set to take effect on July 1. This agreement is one of many other agreements, including one with Australia, that are in the works, tightening an already competitive global trade field with South Korea.
Since KORUS upholds key U.S. laws, such as our strong protection of property rights and labor rights, it is a model for free trade that is also fair. In addition, our nations share a strong economic partnership, a vital strategic alliance, and a close friendship based on mutual democratic values. KORUS only strengthens these bonds that unite us.
We have nothing to lose in advancing trade relations with South Korea and everything to gain. Throughout our fragile economic recovery, U.S. exports have been one of the strongest drivers of economic growth and job creation. KORUS' implementation is critical to our continued recovery, and any efforts toward its further delay should be seen as nothing less than economic self-sabotage.