That is why my fellow chairman, Congressman John Spratt, and I just wrote a letter to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk urging him to negotiate a fairer free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea. The current agreement, we wrote to Ambassador Kirk, is skewed unfairly toward South Korea. While we value our long-standing friendship with the people of South Korea, friends must trade with each other fairly.

The proposed trade pact is wrong because it would allow a massive flow of highly technical industrial textiles from Korea into the United States with few opportunities for reciprocal export of U.S. products to Korea. In its current form, the net result will likely be further job losses in segments of an industry critical to our districts. We have asked Ambassador Kirk, as he reopens the automotive and beef sectors of the agreement, to also revisit the textile provisions and revise sections that could cause great harm to the domestic textile industry.

We recognize that the current framework was negotiated by the previous administration, but Congressman Spratt and I voiced our strenuous objections to the tariff schedule proposed by the Korean government. We take great exception to the fact that the tariff phase-out schedules for 52 highly technical industrial textile products are nonreciprocal, providing Korea with a much more generous tariff elimination schedule than what is afforded U.S. producers and exporters. Since the purpose of this agreement is to provide fair and equitable treatment to all parties, the United States simply cannot accept an agreement that places U.S. manufacturers and workers at such a blatant disadvantage. An agreement cannot be called “free trade” when one party imposes tariffs on imports and the other party does not. We do not believe Korea’s highly sophisticated textile sector should be granted further assistance in accessing the U.S. market through nonreciprocal tariff preferences.

Furthermore, 60 percent of sensitive product tariff lines are duty free immediately for Korean imports, with an additional 29 percent falling under the five year phase-out. Only 10 percent of the sensitive tariff lines critical to U.S. companies have the longest (10-year) phase-out period. This is contrary to the advice of Congressional Textile Caucus members and the domestic industry throughout the negotiation process, as well as contrary to previous FTA negotiations. The Republic of Korea was the second largest supplier of textiles by volume to the U.S. for the year ending in December 2009. By contrast, industrial textile exports from the U.S. to Korea by volume in 2009 do not even show Korea among the top 10 purchasers.  Exposing sensitive portions of the textile industry to immediate duty phase-outs will increase the possibility of further job losses and plant closings in the United States. At a time of high unemployment, this is not sound policy.

The current trade framework will give goods of Korean origin duty-free entry into the U.S. market, while U.S. exports to Korea will still be subject to a 10 percent value added tax. It is misleading for U.S. officials to speak of zero-for-zero duty reductions when the U.S. imposes no comparable border tax on imports from Korea. Remedying this inequity should be part of any Korean trade agreement. Ambassador Kirk recently stated the importance of "making sure that U.S. trading partners adhere to their agreements, respect U.S. trading rights, and play by the rules.” We could not agree more.

Free trade agreements must apply the same rules to both parties. To accept an agreement that imposes a nonreciprocal tariff schedule violates the most basic concept of free trade. Even my mama would have agreed with that.