Friday, July 1, 2011

Congratulations, EU Exporters!

Great news for European and South Korean exporters and consumers: as expected, the EU-Korea FTA entered into force today:
A landmark free trade agreement between South Korea and the European Union took effect Friday amid expectations of a boost to already booming commerce between the two sides.

The agreement brings together the 27-member EU, the world's largest economic bloc, and increasingly affluent South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy.

It is the first such accord for the EU with an Asian country. South Korean and EU lawmakers ratified the agreement earlier this year with the implementation date set for July 1....

It immediately slashes 70 percent of tariffs, with that set to expand to 98.7 percent within five years, Kozlowski told reporters Thursday. Among items for which import duties have disappeared are South Korean auto parts and mobile phones and European auto parts, industrial machinery and wine, he said.
Of course, not everyone's cheering today's big announcement.  EU exporters' biggest competitors must be, ahem, less-than-enthused about the news:
The pact marks a come-from-behind victory of sorts for the EU over the United States. The bloc began negotiations for the deal with South Korea in May of 2007, a month after Washington and Seoul first concluded their own free trade agreement....

The agreement, originally negotiated by previous governments in the two nations, was long hung up on demands by the Obama Administration for more U.S. access to South Korea's auto market. South Korea reopened the deal under pressure from Washington and negotiators reached a compromise late last year.

Now, however, it has become caught up in a debate in the U.S. Senate along with two other stalled free trade deals with Colombia and Panama over proposed financial and job-retraining help to workers hurt by foreign competition.

"The earlier entry into force of the Korea-EU FTA is really significant," Choi Seok-young, Seoul's top free trade negotiator, told The Associated Press, citing the lowering of tariffs. "U.S. competitors in the Korean market and EU market would face comparatively disadvantaged positions from today onward."

The EU ranked as South Korea's fourth-largest trading partner last year behind China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan, according to South Korean statistics....

The U.S. is South Korea's fifth-biggest trading partner.
Of course, what this article unhelpfully omits is that the "debate" over the proposed "financial and job-retraining" subsidy - you know, the one that has further delayed implementation of the completed-and-signed-in-2007 US-Korea FTA and cemented its second-place finish behind the EU-Korea FTA - is also a demand of the Obama administration.  But what the article does make depressingly clear is that, as of today, every day that passes is a day in which American exporters and consumers pay real and unnecessary costs due to the continued stagnation of the US-Korea FTA.  (And in some cases, the costs are huge.)

Gee, you'd think with the clock ticking and Americans needlessly suffering, the White House - which has repeatedly praised the KORUS - would just get on with it and submit the FTA to Congress, right?  You'd think that nothing, especially a billion-dollar unemployment subsidy that's not connected to the agreement, would get in President Obama's way, right?


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