U.S. – South Korea FTA begins on March 15

After five years of negotiations, the U.S. and South Korea Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), has completed the last step in its approval and will be fully implemented on March 15.

Congress approved the trade pact last October, which followed approval by the South Korean parliament on Nov. 22, 2011. However, some industry and agricultural interests in both countries, but especially South Korea, continued to have issues with the FTA causing its implementation delay.

Final steps in the process included Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler leading a delegation to meet with her counterpart, Korean Deputy Minister for Trade Choi Seok-young, on Jan. 27-28th to “take stock of the U.S.-Korea trade agreement implementation discussions conducted to date and consult on outstanding issues.”

According to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, this FTA should support tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and the deal will eliminate South Korea’s duties on almost 80 percent of U.S. industrial products and almost 67 percent of U.S. farm goods on its first day of implementation. For U.S. pork, complete implementation will take a little longer.

Korea has a $1 trillion economy and access to that market will open up opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, businesses and workers. It also “will strengthen[ing] our economic partnership with a key Asia-Pacific ally,” Kirk said in a statement.

Now that the trade pact with South Korea is ready to go into effect in mid-March, the USTR is working diligently with our partners in Panama and Colombia—FTAs that also received Congress’ approval in Oct. 2011—to bring those agreements to fruition by the end of the summer.

The USTR is continuing to receive and analyze materials from Colombia and Panama, and Kirk and Minister Rafael Pardo Rueda recently discussed the implementation of the Colombian Action Plan related to labor rights which is a necessary prerequisite to enacting the U.S. – Colombia Trade Agreement.

Kirk also has urged Congress to lift trade restrictions with Russia “as soon as possible,” so that U.S. companies aren’t put at a disadvantage when the country joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). Russia was formally invited to join the WTO in Dec., and has until July 22 to accept a several-hundred-page report of rules it must follow.

The United States will not enjoy full trade benefits with Russia unless Congress moves forward to provide permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia by waiving the Jackson-Vanik Amendment—a 37-year-old provision crafted to put pressure on communist nations for human-rights abuses and immigration policies. President Obama has said he wants to work with Congress to repeal Jackson-Vanik later this spring.