South Korea Commemorates 5th Anniversary of Free Trade Agreement with the US

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Trade, Industry, and Energy Minister Joo Hyunghwan (right) shakes hand with US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in Washington D.C. [Image: Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy.]

Starting with a visit by the country’s Trade Minister to Washington D.C, South Korea spent March reflecting strengthened trade ties with the United States. Early in the month, the South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy Joo Hyunghwan met with his US counterpart Wilbur Ross in Washington, D.C. to celebrate recent achievements and share his hope to further expanding bilateral trade. The ministers attributed the 15% increase in the Korea-US trade volume — a feat achieved while trade decreased 10% globally — to the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA).

During the meeting, both ministers promised to cultivate economic cooperation, especially in the energy and manufacturing industries. Agreements were made to establish new channels for US liquefied natural gas (LNG) business and foster the exchange of human resources in the energy sector. The ministers also discussed increasing mutual investment and collaboration in the automotive industry — a major component of KORUS trade.

On March 14, a day before the quinquennial of KORUS FTA, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Korea jointly hosted a seminar in Seoul celebrating US-Korea trade. The seminar reflected on the past 5 years of KORUS FTA and worked to bolster further cooperation. Among the participants were Wendy Cutler, the chief US negotiator for KORUS FTA, as well as her counterpart Kim Jong-Hoon, and the Korean Minister of Trade.

A week later, the third meeting of the Public-Private Committee on Korea-US Trade — a committee founded last November to respond to changes in the commercial environment under the new US administration — was held in Seoul to discuss the latest developments in Korea-US trade and formulate responses. Various economic organizations, think tanks, and industrial associations, as well as the Ministry of Trade participated.

South Korea is the sixth largest trading partner of the United States, accounting for 3.1% of the total US international goods trade. KORUS FTA went into effect in 2012 after five years of negotiations. Bilateral trade has nearly doubled over the last decade.

Jaichung Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.