S. Korean ambassador cites free trade agreement’s pluses

  • Wed Sep 8th, 2010 10:20am

By Kurt Batdorf SCBJ Editor

MUKILTEO — South Korea’s ambassador to the U.S. paid a visit to Everett’s Boeing plant Aug. 30, part of his nationwide mission to drum up support for Congress to approve the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Han Duk-soo spoke with local dignitaries and Boeing officials about KORUS, as it’s called, at the Future of Flight museum after his tour of the Boeing plant.

The centerpiece of KORUS is the elimination of tariffs on goods within seven years, ambassador Han said. Boeing will no longer have to pay the 3 to 8 percent tariffs it pays now.

“I think the people of Boeing recognize a good deal with they see one,” Han said.

“We can work together on a free trade agreement,” Jim Simon, vice president of Asian sales for Boeing, told the ambassador. “These are going to be old friends in the future. They’ve been a tremendous partner for us.”

Boeing won’t be the only beneficiary of KORUS. Han said tariffs on agricultural exports to Korea — some of them up to 630 percent — will be eliminated, and he predicted 70,000 new American jobs will result from increased export activity.

“Korea is a very important trade partner with the Port of Everett,” Port Executive Director John Mohr said.

Washington state sends $3.3 billion in goods to South Korea, said Greater Everett Chamber of Commerce President Louise Stanton-Masten.

Furthermore, the U.S. already has a trade surplus with South Korea, Han said, and KORUS has the support of American agricultural, technology, software and intellectual property interests who will gain unfettered access to the South Korean market.

“We would like to energize our business relationships with the U.S.” while Korean businesses look for new opportunities here, Han said.

KORUS will strengthen the U.S.-Korean partnership and the countries’ shared values of democracy and free trade, he said.

President George W. Bush signed KORUS in 2007, but it has languished since. President Barack Obama has said the time is ripe to finalize the agreement.

Han praised U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Adam Smith, D-Wash., for getting 50 Democrats and 51 Republicans to support of KORUS, despite a difficult environment in Washington, D.C., and widespread misunderstanding of trade with South Korea. Han said South Korea is unfairly lumped in with China and Japan, two neighbors of South Korea with which the U.S. carries large trade deficits.

Han will make his case for KORUS at chambers of commerce across the U.S. to build support for the agreement. He joked that he’ll be visiting enough cities to justify making T-shirts declaring “KORUS FTA Tour 2010.”

Stanton-Masten said she expects KORUS to get Congressional attention this fall while chambers of commerce weigh in on the matter.

“It takes partnerships to get these things done,” she said.

As for his visit to Snohomish County, Han said, “In Washington state, I don’t worry very much. You’ve been very supportive of free trade.”

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, kbatdorf@scbj.com.