[VIEWPOINT]Washington attentive to KoreansWASHINGTON, D.C. Several members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, here on business, recently marched in the halls of Bush administration offices and in the U.S. Congress explaining the business environment in Korea and the state of U.S.-Korea economic relations.
We called upon the White House, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commerce Department, the U.S. Trade Representative office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Senate and the House, several important trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, plus associations representing the automotive, pharmaceutical and steel manufacturers of America and the software and intellectual property associations.
The mood in Washington was positive and optimistic. Americans are fully united behind President Bush and the war against terrorism. Attention is focused on national security, the crisis in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Quite surprising, however, neither Congress nor the American public seem to be showing any signs of fatigue or impatience with the war on terrorism, giving Mr. Bush the luxury to pursue his objectives with patience and persistence.
It is clear, at least at present, that the U.S. Congress and the American public are prepared to give Mr. Bush and the U.S. military the time and money needed to root out terrorism on a global basis. Given Mr. Bush's character and his popular support, I feel certain that he will not sway from his agenda and, in Mr. Bush's words, nations must either side with the United States or be considered the enemy. Given the emphasis on security, it was difficult for Washington to focus on economic issues. But when the Bush administration did turn to the economy, we again found optimism.
There is a broad consensus that the U.S. economy is recovering and is on the way up. There is also a clear consensus that the Bush administration's tax cuts have been largely responsible for the recovery, suggesting that this formula could also produce positive results to boost Korea's economy and GDP.
As in years past, Amcham has found Washington's perceptions of the Korean economy behind the reality. Washington did not always fully appreciate the depth of the Kim Dae-jung administration's reforms and the very positive impact these have had on Korea's economy.
U.S. officials were genuinely surprised when Amcham declared that even though there are problems still to resolve, Korea is open and accepting of foreign investment and that Korea is a great place to do business.
Amcham requested and obtained assurance of enthusiastic support from U.S. officials on Seoul's bid to become a regional business hub in Asia, to provide positive support in sending U.S. companies to invest and trade with Korea and to continue to seek a bilateral investment treaty with Korea.
We also found the mood generally positive to the concept of a free trade agreement once a bilateral investment treaty is concluded.
When we pursued the issue of steel quotas, we could not help but gain greater respect for Mr. Bush's political genius. The United States currently consumes 130 million tons of steel annually, of which 30 million tons are imports. If the 30 million tons are imported, only 20 percent, or 6 million tons are subject to the special protective duty and the remaining 80 percent of imports were granted exemptions from the duty.
Mr. Bush gained popular support from the steel-producing states and labor unions, traditional strong Democratic Party supporters, but without really giving them much or in reality compromising his free trade principles.
While there is clearly a need for Amcham to continue efforts to help Americans better understand the tremendous economic progress made by Korea and the Korean people, we found confirmation that the U.S.-Korea relationship is strong.
We also found that there is tremendous respect in Washington for the Korean people, a strong commitment to the Korean effort for freedom and democracy and for the phenomenal recovery of the Korean economy following the 1997-98 financial crisis.
The writer is president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
by Jeffrey Jones