Stop the Biggest “Free Trade” Agreement Since NAFTA

By Arthur Stamoulis The biggest “free trade” agreement since NAFTA is about to hit the floor of Congress. On February 9, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified before the House Ways & Means Committee that the White House will be submitting the Korea Free Trade Agreement for a vote within the next few weeks. The Korea FTA was negotiated and signed in 2007, but President Bush was never able to get it through Congress. President Obama campaigned against it during his bid for the White House, but recently dusted it off and has been running with it as his own. This despite the fact that even the federal government’s own International Trade Commission (ITC) predicts that the Korea FTA will increase the overall U.S. trade deficit — meaning more job loss at a time when the country can least afford it. According to the Economic Policy Institute, imports from South Korea will displace 888,000 American jobs within just seven years should the Korea FTA be enacted, costing the country a net 159,000 jobs in the process. Furthermore, the trade deal would hurt employment in some of America’s highest-paying industries. The ITC predicts that good-paying, high-union-density sectors of the economy like motor vehicles and parts, electronics equipment, metal products and other transportation equipment are among those that will fare poorly under the FTA. And yes, you read that right. Auto jobs are expected to take a real hit under this trade deal. The lion’s share of employment in the auto sector is in the supply chain. That’s one reason why unions like the Steelworkers, Machinists and IBEW all vehemently oppose the Korea FTA — as does the AFL-CIO. And for the record, Korea’s largest labor federation also opposes this trade deal. They’ve been mounting heroic opposition against it for well over three years now, at one point turning out 700,000 people into the streets to fight it. Korean workers recognize this FTA for the corporate power grab that it is, and are also concerned about the potential for offshoring. The FTA’s pathetic 35% “rule of origin” provision means that up to 65% of a “Korean” car, computer or other product that enters the U.S. duty-free under the deal can actually be made of parts that come from third-party countries like China, Vietnam and possibly even North Korea. As powerful and inspiring as the Koreans’ fight has been, it’s up to labor activists in the U.S. to defeat this thing here at home. If we don’t, the Colombia FTA, the Panama FTA and the massive new Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA are all sure to follow.