Korea: The starting line to America’s trade with Asia

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Fortunately, it appears our leaders in Washington are beginning to realize the folly of delay.  Instead of putting nearly 350,000 U.S. jobs at risk by failing to act on the deal, there’s renewed momentum toward acting on an agreement that the U.S. government says could create more than a quarter million jobs and boost GDP by $12 billion.

One of the most important steps in building this momentum is President Obama’s recent decision to send the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement (KORUS) to Congress, along with similar trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.  With the support of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the administration, the business community, and even multiple labor unions, this has created a sense of renewed hope that Washington can come together on good policies that will create jobs here in America.

If Congress is serious about helping businesses of all sizes create jobs, now is the time to rise to the occasion and vote for an agreement that will spur economic growth and create jobs by allowing American businesses to export more of their goods and services into
South Korea. KORUS will level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and service providers by breaking down trade barriers and reducing tariffs so that American companies can compete fairly.

Many people think that KORUS will only benefit multinational corporations, but small businesses, which make up nearly 90 percent of U.S. exporters to Korea, would also see a huge boost to their sales overseas. Profile Products, based outside of Chicago with approximately 200 employees, manufactures erosion control products and additives for hydraulic mulch used on projects such as golf courses, baseball fields, mine reclamation and road construction.

The firm’s products currently face a 6.5 percent tariff when entering South Korea, which will be immediately eliminated once this agreement goes into effect.  Korea currently represents 12 percent of Profile’s international business, and passage of the FTA would provide even more opportunities for it to provide high technology solutions to ongoing projects in Korea, such as the Four Rivers Restoration Project.

Though passage of KORUS is critical, the current momentum on trade must not be misconstrued as the finish line for trade in Asia.  Let’s make this agreement the dawn of a new era for U.S. engagement in the region.  Next month the United States will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to host the APEC Summit in Honolulu, bringing together the leaders of 21 Asia Pacific economies. While there, the United States and eight other APEC members will also seek to make meaningful progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The TPP, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru and Brunei, promises to be a 21st Century standard accord that has the potential to cement U.S. economic ties with Asia, and write the rules for trade investment across the region for decades to come.

By breaking free of the policy stagnation that bogged down Washington this summer, we’re seeing new opportunities for American businesses to reach half of the world’s consumers, who live in Asia, with products stamped with three proud words: Made in America.

Mr. Rhodes is chairman of the U.S.-Korea Business Council, senior advisor to Citigroup, and president & CEO of William R. Rhodes Global Advisors, LLC. He is the author of Banker to the World: Leadership Lessons From the Front Lines of Global Finance.

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