Laying out the next 60 years

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Laying out the next 60 years

This year is one of anniversaries and milestones for our 60-year-old U.S.-Korea alliance. Although the biggest celebrations are still a few months away, I frequently remind people what we are really celebrating throughout this entire year is the partnership and shared prosperity that our two great nations have enjoyed.

I like to think about our partnership as having four pillars. The main pillar is clearly our shared commitment to security on the peninsula, as evidenced by the more than 28,500 men and women of the U.S. armed forces in Korea.

But it is increasingly clear that the strong historical ties between our two countries are enhanced and made possible today by the other pillars of our relationship. Look at our incredibly strong people ties - 107,054 Koreans were studying at U.S. colleges during the last school year, the highest of any developed country. And more than 1.1 million Koreans visited the United States for business or tourism last year thanks to the visa waiver program.

More and more we also work together as global partners, forming the third pillar of our relationship. We work jointly to combat piracy off the coast of Africa. We cooperate on development assistance in some of the most poverty stricken places on earth. And we collaborate on essential scientific research to protect our environment and develop the innovative technology needed to continue our shared prosperity for the next 60 years.

Indeed, our relationship is multifaceted and complex, as broad as it is deep.

This week we celebrate a major achievement in our fourth pillar of economic partnership: the one year anniversary of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which we also know as Korus. This agreement has become the benchmark for high-standard, comprehensive trade agreements. President Obama was committed to ensuring that this win-win agreement was finalized and approved by the U.S. Congress, because he saw not only the significant economic benefits this agreement could bring to both countries, but also how this agreement could serve to take this important economic pillar of our relationship to the next level.

Korus was designed to increase trade between the United States and Korea, improve the availability of U.S. and Korean products and services in our respective countries, and further strengthen our economic ties. I am pleased to report that after one year, Korus is showing positive results. Despite a global downturn in trade, total bilateral trade increased in 2012 to nearly $130 billion. Korea continues to be the seventh largest goods trading partner of the United States, and the United States the third largest national goods trading partner of Korea.

Our citizens have more choices among Korean and American products. Americans are eating more kimchi than ever before, with exports up 39 percent last year. It certainly helped that First Lady Michelle Obama made some herself. I was thrilled last summer to see local supermarkets filled with fresh American cherries at affordable prices and local shops featuring fresh lemonade with U.S. lemons. I am also pleased to see that exports of U.S. passenger cars to Korea increased by 48 percent in 2012, an important sign that the agreement is helping U.S. auto companies gain a firmer footing in the Korean market.

And we know that trade strengthens our economies, too. Both Korea and the United States have hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that depend on trade between our nations, and that is before we even take into account the jobs created by foreign investment.

From here in Seoul we can see how investments by American firms are paying dividends for Korea. GM Korea employs 17,000 people. ADT, an American security company, employs almost 4,000 Koreans. Costco is offering a wide variety of American products at better prices for cost-conscious Korean consumers directly and through Korea’s “Mom and Pop” retail stores, which are among the wholesaler’s biggest customers. The reverse is also true, with Korean investments in U.S. manufacturing plants providing employment for tens of thousands of Americans.

America’s investments in Korea bring far more than good jobs to these shores. U.S. investments improve the lives of ordinary people. Our companies bring a workplace safety culture that reduces workplace accidents. Our firms promote diversity in the workforce and hire huge numbers of well-qualified Korean women. American companies bring a world-class customer service and after-sales support ethos with them to Korea. And our businesses bring a culture of innovation and state-of-the-art American technology. Meanwhile, Korean companies are contributing to the American communities they call home through generous corporate social responsibility programs, and demonstrating every day their manufacturing prowess.

Korea’s history of using trade to power economic growth and improve living conditions for its people is nothing short of remarkable. Korea’s transformation from an aid recipient to a significant donor country is an inspiration. And I am proud of the fact that the United States has stood alongside Korea as a partner during the past 60 years of work toward these goals. We have accomplished a lot together over the previous six decades, but I know that our strong economic relationship - rooted in a joint commitment to security on the peninsula and beyond - will be the engine powering another 60 extraordinary years of partnership.

*The author is the U.S. ambassador to Korea. He contributed this piece on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement on March 15.

by Sung Kim
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