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Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai to Mark the 10th Anniversary of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you, Charles, for that kind introduction.  I want to begin by thanking the Chamber of Commerce, the U.S.-Korea Business Council, and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry for putting together this event.  I want to thank Minister Yeo for being here as well. You’ve been a strong, dedicated partner and a very good friend.

I want to acknowledge members of the Korean National Assembly who are with us today.

I also want to recognize my predecessor and dear friend, Ambassador Ron Kirk, who helped bring the US – Korea Free Trade Agreement into force.

Today, we mark the 10-year anniversary of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, an agreement that has survived a number of significant adjustments before its passage by the U.S. Congress, and a re-negotiation in 2018. 

KORUS, as it is often called, is a manifestation of the resilience in our bilateral economic relationship – and the ability of our two nations to confront challenges head on.  Trade agreements, as I’ve often said, are not trophies to be put on a shelf and admired.  They are living arrangements that require constant tending and continued attention in order to remain relevant and responsive to the evolving dynamics in our relationship and the world economy.

Over the last decade, the value of the goods and services we have exported to Korea has grown by over 17 percent to nearly $70 billion.  Along with the successes of this Agreement, and there are many, we have also grappled with disappointments and challenges in its implementation.

Last year, the United States exported $3.2 billion worth of American-made cars and trucks to Korea – making Korea our 5th largest export market for automobiles.  And while this is notable progress, we have much further to go and we will continue to focus on expanding opportunities for U.S. autos exports to Korea.  We must also remain vigilant in our government-to-government cooperation to overcome barriers that undermine the quality and the quantity of those opportunities.

U.S. agricultural exports to Korea reached $9.4 billion in 2021, a record amount that has grown by nearly 35 percent compared to a decade ago, making Korea the fifth largest export destination for U.S. agriculture.  Additionally, last year, Korea became the number one destination for U.S. beef and beef products by volume and value, amounting to $2.38 billion – also a record.

Yet, despite this success, there is still room to grow the market in Korea for U.S. agricultural products, including more beef, – and creating a regulatory environment that facilitates access to agricultural biotechnologies.  Innovation in agricultural production will be critical to helping farmers adapt to climate change, and we look forward to working with Korea in its capacity as a global powerhouse of scientific and technological innovation.

Over the last 10 years, the Agreement has strengthened the investment ties between our two countries.  Tomorrow, Minister Yeo and I head to Michigan to tour SK Siltron CSS, a South Korean-based semiconductor wafer manufacturer with a large facility in Auburn, about 120 miles north of Detroit.

Last year, SK Siltron announced a three-year plan to invest $300 million in Bay County, Michigan.  They will double the number of people they employ in the state, creating good-paying jobs and they will provide manufacturing and R&D capabilities of advanced materials for electric vehicles.

When President Moon visited the White House in early 2021, President Biden said “the Republic of Korea and the United States are both nations built on innovation, and we must both meet the challenges facing us today and look to what is possible for tomorrow.”

This partnership between our two countries is an excellent example of how we can harness the innovation and talent of our citizens to create a cleaner, more sustainable economy – while also creating good-paying jobs.

The logic underlying our trade agreements is that trade is the tide that lifts boats in both of our economies.  For example, when we ship beef, soybeans, and fruit to Busan, it helps farmers in Iowa, California, and Nebraska.  Meanwhile, Korean families and communities benefit when their products come to the United States.

While that is the logic that underlies our trade agreements, despite the many positive developments over the last decade, we must be clear-eyed about the fact that benefits of trade, and trade agreements more generally, including benefits from the promises of KORUS, have not been evenly distributed throughout our communities or sectors of our economy.

And the last two years of the pandemic have highlighted some of the vast inequities that persist around the globe.

We have also seen a rise in new technologies that have broken down barriers and enhanced connections around the world – but have also created serious challenges like the spread of disinformation and erosion of personal privacy.

And in recent years, certain non-market economies and countries have doubled down on their state-centered economic systems that create an uneven playing field and prevent American and Korean businesses and workers from competing fairly.

So, as we look to the next ten years of KORUS, we must place a greater emphasis on the day-to-day needs and experiences of our citizens, ensure that our policies facilitate that race to the top, and jointly prepare for the challenges of the next decade.

I am hopeful that we can accomplish these goals because our two countries are continuously working to ensure that KORUS remains relevant.

In November when I visited Seoul and co-chaired the Joint Committee meeting of the KORUS Agreement with Minister Yeo I found an incredible dynamism.  In addition to the routine work of discussions to resolve trade irritants, and ensuring both sides are meeting their commitments under the agreement – Minister Yeo and I agreed intensifying a future-oriented approach to our economic relationship to harness this dynamism.

Specifically, we agreed to enhanced channels of communication to effectively address emerging trade-related issues in areas such as supply chain challenges, emerging technologies, the digital ecosystem, and trade facilitation, with the intention of deepening cooperation to enable common approaches and responses to challenges facing global trade. 

We also affirmed the importance of labor and environmental issues in trade and the need for advanced cooperation in these areas.

Advancing these priorities through KORUS is not only important to the future of our bilateral relationship – but also to the broader region as many of these priorities are at the heart of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that we are developing.

We look forward to working with the new Yoon Administration, and we believe that Korea is well positioned to play a leading role in advancing this framework.

The strongest impression that my trip to Seoul made on me is that the spirit of strength, resilience, and entrepreneurialism in the Korean people reminds me in every way of the same spirit in the American people. Working together, we can bring about a new global economy that is built for resilience, sustainability, inclusion, and competition.

Thank you.