By Jennifer Prescott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Environment and Natural Resources
While the Trans-Pacific Partnership may dominate the headlines on trade and strengthening ties in the Asia-Pacific, and will create new opportunities to enhance environmental protection and cooperation in the region, we maintain strong relationships with established FTA partners—notably, South Korea
The U.S. and Korea have had a long history of friendship and cooperation based on common values and interests. South Korea has rapidly achieved economic prominence in the region and is now an important economic partner in the Asia-Pacific. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) which entered into force in 2012, furthers this partnership and has spurred significant trade, investment and cooperation. Korea is now the United States' sixth-largest goods trading partner with a trillion-dollar economy, and the 13th largest economy in the world. Our two-way goods and services trade last year totaled over $145 billion—benefiting our businesses, consumers, farmers and ranchers.
In addition to the economic benefits of the agreement, the KORUS FTA contained environmental obligations and established a platform for cooperation to advance environmental protection. This week I traveled to Seoul for the second meeting of Environmental Affairs Council (EAC) and Environmental Cooperation Commission (ECC) under KORUS to check-in with our trading partners and review progress under the Environment chapter, including the development of new environmental laws, regulations, and policies in both of our countries.
During our meetings, it was apparent that among our shared values is a dedication to improving the environment, and using our partnership to learn from each other’s experience. Our Korean counterparts discussed their recent plans to strengthen laws to address environmental pollution and protect human health from hazardous chemicals, as well as efforts to encourage recycling, prevent illegal fishing, and improve air quality, among other topics. We also had a chance to discuss our new air quality regulations, Presidential directives to combat wildlife trafficking [link to wildlife blog] and illegal fishing [link to IUU blog], and new regulations to protect marine mammals, among others.. We discussed areas for cooperation on issues as diverse as combatting illegal fishing to implementation and expansion of the Montreal Protocol.
Hearing about Korea’s efforts to crack down on illegal fishing, which by some estimates is a multi-billion dollar problem that robs our oceans and our legitimate fishermen of their livelihoods, was especially encouraging. Korea has made major strides since being identified for illegal fishing concerns by both the United States and the European Union a few years ago. Korea’s Ministry for Oceans and Fisheries for example has strengthened laws, regulations, and enforcement, and laws now include increased inspections, more stringent licensing systems, and mandatory use of VMS systems for deep-water fishing vessels. As a major fishing nation, as well as one of the world’s largest importers of seafood, these efforts could make a big difference.
In addition to improving efforts to protect our oceans, the Korean Forestry Service informed us of laws being developed to prevent the import of illegally harvested timber products, and work with U.S. experts to understand our related laws, such as the Lacey Act. Korean Officials are also assessing the country’s Environmental Impact Assessment guidelines, in an effort to ensure that they are strong and meaningful. Collectively, these actions will help to protect our oceans, forests, and the planet.
I expect that our partnership in environmental protection and cooperation will continue to thrive over the coming years, with special emphasis on working together not only bilaterally, but also in multilateral fora, such as the Minamata Convention on mercury and the Port State Measures Agreement, which Korea is working to ratify.
In addition to our bilateral meetings, I met with U.S. and Korean businesses engaged in the production and export of environmental goods—those that reduce pollution, create clean energy, and increase energy and water efficiency, among others. We had a wide-ranging discussion on our joint efforts to advance the WTO Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations, and our hopes for an ambitious conclusion, one which will facilitate the spread of the most high-tech green products into the global marketplace to make these goods cheaper and more accessible for everyone, and support efforts to decrease resource use and increase environmental benefits.
We concluded our meetings with a public session where press, NGOs, businesses, and citizens were able to engage directly with us, ask questions, and even share a delicious Korean lunch. These opportunities help us to ensure that the issues we're working on are issues people care about and matter for the health of our economies and shared environment—today and in the future.