With the recent signing of the U.S.- Korea Free Trade Agreement, protectionists in both countries are stepping up opposition.
In Korea there were homilies against the trade agreement at a Catholic prayer rally and Mass in a rural diocese. Father Kim Si-young said that the agreement would hurt the poor: "Korean society will change to fit an American standard full of competition, and socially weak people will suffer. Following Jesus Christ, who cared for and chose the poor as a preferential option, we have to oppose the FTA.”
Korea has one of the most protected markets in the world, according to the U.S. Trade Representative, with double-digit tariffs on many agricultural products. As a result, consumer prices are among the highest for many food products.
In its summary of the pact, the USTR notes that it will eliminate or reduce tariffs on the following farm products — some with phase-out periods:
· More than half ($1.6 billion) of current U.S. farm exports to Korea will become duty-free immediately, including wheat, feed corn, soybeans for crushing, hides and skins, and cotton, plus a broad range of high value agricultural products such as almonds, pistachios, bourbon whiskey, wine, raisins, grape juice, orange juice, fresh cherries, frozen french fries, frozen orange juice concentrate, and pet food.
· U.S. farm products benefiting from expanded market opportunities with two-year tariff phase-outs include avocados, lemons, dried prunes, and sunflower seeds.
· U.S. farm products benefiting from expanded market opportunities with five-year tariff phase-outs include food preparations, chocolate and chocolate confectionary, sweet corn, sauces and preparations, other fodder and forage (alfalfa), breads and pastry, grapefruit, and dried mushrooms.
· Other U.S. farm products that will benefit from expanded market access opportunities through tariff rate quotas include skim and whole milk powder, whey for food use, cheese, dextrins and modified starches, barley, popcorn, and soybeans for food use.
· Market access was also expanded for beef and pork products, pears, apples, grapes and oranges.
Sounds like it will be a pretty good deal for consumers — and actually help the poor who devote more of their income to food.