[Viewpoint] The future of U.S.-Korea trade

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[Viewpoint] The future of U.S.-Korea trade

Three years have passed since the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was officially signed by the two countries’ governments. The agreement would not only bring mutual economic benefit, recovery to the U.S. economy and more jobs but also elevate the reputation of the United States in Asia. But regrettably, it is not certain when the U.S. Congress will move to ratify the treaty.

The United States has been a great help in Korea’s development. Gapyeong High School in Gyeonggi was founded with the funds raised by the troops of the 40th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. The USFK Command still provides scholarships to the school, continuing the tradition for 60 years.

After the Battle of Yeoncheon, then division commander Joseph Cleland was deeply impressed to see some 150 students studying under a makeshift tent, and raised funds from the troops. The U.S. forces provided supplies and equipment to the school and worked there as volunteers.

When Seoul was recaptured by the North Korean forces on Jan. 4, 1951, the U.S. Air Force airlifted hundreds of orphans to Jeju Island using transport planes. Col. Dean Hess, who was in charge of the operation, established the Angels Orphanage on Jeju Island. Later, he became an ordained minister upon returning to the United States and continued to send donations from his church members. Rock Hudson starred as Colonel Hess in a movie - “Battle Hymn” - based on the operation.

I still regret not visiting Father Leonard LaRue in Wayne, New Jersey, before I left New York. Father LaRue was the captain of the U.S. merchant ship Meredith Victory. The ship was placed under General MacArthur and was given the task of evacuating Hungnam in North Korea on Dec. 23, 1950. The boat’s capacity was barely 1,000, but Captain LaRue transported 14,000 refugees and arrived at Geoje Island on Christmas.

Among the many miracles, five babies were born aboard the ship in the fierce winter. Bill Gilbert published “Ship of Miracles” with accounts from the evacuation, and the filmmaker RJ McHatton recently produced a documentary movie based on the book.

The Korea-based MiG Alley Chapter of the U.S. Air Force Association hosts a friendly golf tournament every year, where scholarship funds are raised for the children of U.S. Air Force noncommissioned officers and of the Korean Augmentation Troops to the United States Army.

Marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, Korean business leaders are eager to get involved this year. Every year, many business professionals participate in the event not only for the unique experience of playing golf with “top guns” but also to show appreciation for what the United States has done for Korea.

They all agree that Korea would not be what it is today if the United States had not provided assistance during the war. They also say that the glorious economic development was only possible thanks to the economic cooperation and the giant market of the United States.

In the aftermath of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and consequent global financial crisis, skepticism over American hegemony and the key currency status of the U.S. dollar spread.

I personally predicted in my Chosun Ilbo column on Nov. 15, 2008, that the U.S. economy would rebound and the U.S. dollar would continue to be the de facto world currency.

“The U.S. economy will recover faster than other developed countries, thanks to the transparent system, innovative capacity and creativity,” I wrote. “Foreign direct investors will flock to the United States when U.S. assets and companies are relatively undervalued.”

Whenever there is a liquidity problem in the international market, countries stockpile U.S. dollars. They all believe that the United States will thrive in the end.

And sure enough, Washington has rapidly implemented fiscal and currency policies that Japan, when in a similar situation, missed. Japan failed to reform in a decade, but the United States finished in a year.

Banks aggressively cleared bad debts and pursued restructuring, paying back rescue financing in less than six months. Other industries also cut costs and improved efficiency to enhance productivity in the last year.

Tens of thousands of young Americans sacrificed their lives to defend the Republic of Korea, and now, Korea is a sworn devotee of liberal democracy and the market economy, which are the founding ideologies of the United States.

Once ratified, the Korea-U.S. FTA would not only ensure continued economic cooperation between the two allies but also provide a basis to advance to the vast Asian market. Ultimately, an FTA with Korea would greatly benefit the national interests of the United States, too. After all, President Obama did promise to create 2 million jobs in his State of the Union address.

The Korea-U.S. FTA is a shortcut to doubling exports and creating jobs. The tariff, tax system and regulation issues between the two countries would also be resolved. If Washington focuses on the automobile industry and chooses a protectionist position, the international leadership of the United States would be undermined. The U.S. Congress should take a broader perspective and quickly ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is chairman of Deutsche Bank of Korea and honorary chairman of the MiG Alley Chapter of the U.S. Air Force Association.

By Kim Soo-ryong
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