The South Korean ambassador to the United States stressed the importance of passing a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement during his visit to Lansing on Thursday.
"The Korea-U.S. free trade agreement offers one of the best opportunities to create U.S. jobs by providing new export opportunities for American manufacturers, farmers and small- and medium-sized companies," Ambassador Han Duk-soo said.
The ambassador spoke to nearly 100 people at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University. The event was hosted by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Global Business Club of Mid-Michigan.
His speech focused largely on the trade pact, which President George W. Bush signed in 2007, but has not been approved by Congress.
Dave Regan, president of Lansing-based Plas-Labs Inc., said he supports the agreement, which would eliminate the 8 percent tariff on scientific research equipment he exports to South Korea.
"That means immediately my products would become less expensive," he said. "Theoretically it should be additional sales."
But some lawmakers and automotive industry representatives have criticized the agreement for not fully leveling the playing field for American auto sales in Korea. The agreement would erase Korea's 8 percent tariff on American cars, as well as remove the United States' 2.5 percent tariff on Korean imports.
The United Auto Workers union has expressed concerns with barriers to American auto sales in South Korea, such as different safety and emissions standards and higher tax rates on larger vehicles. The union noted that South Korea exported 476,833 passenger vehicles to the United States in 2009, while American automakers exported 5,878 vehicles to South Korea.
"American workers can compete on a global scale, it just has to be fair," said Brian Fredline, president of UAW Local 602. "If we place the same restrictions on goods and services coming into the U.S. that they place on goods and services going out ... then that's fair."
U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, agreed.
"There is not currently a level playing field with South Korea and this trade agreement would continue that imbalance," he said.
Han called the concerns on trade barriers "misunderstandings." He said the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the tariff elimination should increase American vehicle exports to Korea by 46 percent to 59 percent, while Korean auto exports to the U.S. would rise by 9 percent to 12 percent.