I have been at the forefront of opposition to the Korea-US (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement. In today's debate over new trade agreements, we should draw lessons from our harmful trade relationship with
China. The supporters of KORUS argue it will benefit the American economy. In 2010, the annual U.S. trade deficit with South Korea was $10 billion. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the KORUS FTA will increase the U.S. trade deficit with Korea by about $16.7 billion, and displace about 159,000 American jobs within the first seven years after it takes effect. This is not just an economic issue for the United States-- this is a national security and human rights issue as well. Just six miles north of the demilitarized zone that separates North from South Korea, factories run by South Korean industrial giants employ 40,000 North Koreans in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. These factories plan to eventually employ several hundred thousand. These workers are not paid directly by their South Korean employers. Instead, their wages are paid to the North Korean government, which pays the workers what it chooses, sometimes as little as $8 per month. The Korea FTA's "rules of origin" appear to allow North Korean goods to be incorporated into South Korean products and given duty-free treatment under the agreement. For example, automobiles with only 35% South Korean content would receive favorable treatment under the agreement. If the U.S. blocks automobiles with as much as 65% North Korean content from duty-free access to the U.S., we would be found in violation of the agreement as drafted. Likewise, many goods 65%-made-in-China, and 35%-made-in-South Korea, would enter the U.S. duty free. Thus goods substantially made in
China would have freer access to the U.S. than those made in Britain or France. But America would gain no additional access to the Chinese market. Any trade agreement should be based on respect for the rights of the workers producing the goods to be traded. The risk of Kaesong goods entering the United States makes the KORUS FTA a bad deal for human rights as well as for economic and national security. From challenging the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on the risk of Kaesong goods entering the U.S., to writing on the pages of the Los Angeles Times, to repeated speeches on the floor of the House, I have relentlessly worked in Congress on this issue -- in the interest of keeping American jobs at home. Unfortunately, the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement passed the House by a vote of 278 to 151 on October 12, 2011. I voted against the bill --and I will continue to oppose future trade agreements that ship
American jobs overseas.