That’s a political man-bites-dog headline. The issue being debated is the proposed U.S.-Korean Fair Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) — actually it’s a managed trade deal, detailed in over a thousand pages of fine print. The leviathan arrangement is filled with favors, exceptions, obligations, and restrictions and micro-manages commerce from cows to cars — sweetheart transactions for Wall Street elites and multi-national corporations.
Talk about politics making strange bedfellows, President Obama is sleeping with such proponents as the Chamber of Commerce, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and most House Republicans.
On their side of the bed, the fellows in opposition to KORUS FTA range from Ralph Nader, the Sierra Club, and the AFL-CIO, to Donald Trump, the U.S. Business and Industry Council, and most House Democrats. Called “Son of NAFTA” after the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement, KORUS FTA was negotiated by the Bush administration — the text is almost identical to NAFTA — but hasn’t been ratified by Congress. Last July, more than 100 Democratic congressmen wrote to President Obama: “The Korea FTA … is another NAFTA-style FTA. We oppose specific provisions of the agreement in the financial services, investment and labor chapters because they benefit multi-national corporations at the expense of small businesses and workers.” Friends of the Earth is fighting ratification because it “replicates some of the worst aspects of NAFTA, providing foreign investors the right to challenge U.S. public health and environmental regulations that could put a dent in their current or expected profits.”
Now let’s put this NAFTA-KORUS FTA comparison in perspective. NAFTA was an anathema to conservatives too — Pat Buchanan said NAFTA was “a code word for betrayal — a sellout of [blue collar workers] and their families to CEOs panting to move production out of the United States to cheap-labor countries like Mexico and China.” A Human Events article claimed: “The NAFTA marketplace, unrestrained in the pursuit of cheap labor, has driven an increasing volume of manufacturing off-shore to Communist China where slave prison camps offer a cost of labor that is hard to beat.”
So, if KORUS FTA equals NAFTA, the number of conservative opponents in the equation doesn’t add up to much — yet. Congressman Ron Paul served up red meat for the Tea Party when he warned his House colleagues that KORUS FTA “is a sneaky form of international preemption, undermining the critical checks and balances and freedoms established by the U.S. Constitution’s reservation of many rights to the people or state governments.” So far, a few nibbles on that one. More red meat: the Korean news media recently revealed that greedy American corporations who recruit low-priced skilled workers from abroad get a bonus: L-1 visa validity for Korean workers is extended from the current twelve months to five years. One more thing: our tax dollars will actually flow into North Korea via its Kaesong Industrial Complex, a “free-trade zone” connecting Seoul to Pyongyang. North Korean automobile parts would be built into South Korean cars sold in the U.S. The deal allows up to 65 percent of the auto parts to be purchased from North Korea and then shipped here duty-free.
The momentum against the Korea Free Trade Agreement has been fueled mainly by the left, but there is movement on the right. Perhaps a turtle-and-hare race is on. A coalition of right-of-center organizations is circulating a letter to Congress which states, “While our groups and members may not agree on every detail of U.S. trade policy, we do agree that [the] KORUS FTA is a bad deal that is neither free nor fair.” The message notes “estimates from the Economic Policy Institute warn that this job-killer [will] cost us at least 159,000 American jobs in the first seven years of its implementation and add $16.7 billion to our trade deficit with South Korea.” Signatories include Ron Paul’s internet-driven Campaign for Liberty and such grassroots operations as the American Policy Center.
Korean opposition to the deal may even be a factor: “We have been hit by the North with cannons and now we’re being hit by the US with the economy,” said Park Jie-Won, leader of the minority Democratic Party, calling the agreement a “humiliating and treacherous deal.” The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions says that KORUS FTA “is based on an economic model that has privileged investor rights over workers’ rights, public services, and the environment.”
The fight over Korea the Free Trade Agreement is a real free-for-all. To me, it really doesn’t matter if the knock-out punch is a left or a right.
Peter Gemma, whose articles have appeared in a variety of publications including USA Today, Military History, and The Washington Examiner, is a columnist with Middle American News.