Korean ambassador stumps in LA for free trade agreement

South Korean Ambassador to the United States Han Duk-Soo speaks during a panel discussion sponsored by Third Way discussing the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement with US Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk at Union Station in Washington, DC, January 13, 2011.
South Korean Ambassador to the United States Han Duk-Soo speaks during a panel discussion sponsored by Third Way discussing the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement with US Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk at Union Station in Washington, DC, January 13, 2011. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Han Duk-soo, says a proposed free trade agreement between the two countries would create 70,000 jobs in the U.S. The trade proposal - still to be approved by Congress - has supporters and detractors in organized labor.

The South Korean ambassador toured a Los Angeles company that stands to grow if the agreement is ratified. At SA Recycling's large facility in the Port of Los Angeles, the ambassador put on a hard hat and a fluorescent vest and climbed aboard a souped-up golf cart to tour the four-story mounds of rusted scrap metal.

Long Beach Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal went along. "We had a tour of the scrap metal processes and how it’s actually separated from the metal that’s very valuable to overseas clients and then from the rubber tires and all that. It’s fascinating!" said Lowenthal.

The company processes more than 2 million tons of scrap metal, much of which began life in Asian factories, and sends it back to places like South Korea so it can be manufactured into more products to be exported to the U.S.

South Korea is the seventh largest U.S. trade partner. But it’s a somewhat unequal relationship, with slightly more containers with Korean goods arriving through the ports of L.A. and Long Beach than headed there from U.S. factories and farms.

The U.S. Chamber’s Tami Overby says the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement would change the equation. "South Korean tariffs are, the average tariff is about 11.2 percent. The average U.S. tariff is about 3.3 percent, so initially America is going to benefit more, because within five years of this agreement 95 percent of those tariffs are going to go to zero," Overby said.

Ambassador Han Duk-soo is on a press junket of sorts, visiting places where the benefits of increased trade are obvious. There’s no easier place to argue for more trade than at this, the nation’s busiest port complex.

The powerful AFL-CIO labor union says the agreement could mean jobs lost to South Korea. Nonsense, says Ambassador Han Duk-soo.

His country’s $6 billion investment in U.S. business stands to grow with this trade pact. "Korea’s outflow of investment into the United States of investments will create jobs and increase the opportunity of more outsourcing within the United States," the ambassador said.

U.S. agricultural products would be some of the first to benefit from the agreement. That means California wine, which is well liked in Korea but a sluggish seller because of the high markup from tariffs. How do you say “Two Buck Chuck” in Korean?

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