Corporations, unions exert pressure over Korea free trade pact


As Congress draws nearer to considering three new free trade agreements, union members are putting pressure on their congressional representatives to oppose them, arguing that they’d cost the state more manufacturing jobs, even as corporate supporters see new hope for quick passage.

Laura Askelin, president of the Southeast Minnesota Labor Council, said members of her union have been writing letters to the editor and organizing rallies to urge lawmakers to oppose the free trade agreements in Panama, Colombia and Korea. These local mobilizations are part of the AFL-CIO’s nationwide push against the agreements.

“Jobs are shipping oversees, and we’re not getting jobs here because of the trade deals,” Askelin told the Minnesota Independent. “We’re definitely feeling it here in rural Minnesota.”

Minnesota has lost about 90,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. At least 13,700 Minnesota manufacturing jobs were lost because of NAFTA, according to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study this year.

The United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, signed in June 2007 but not yet approved by Congress, is the biggest of the three trade deals. The Office of the United States Trade Representative describes it as the “most commercially significant free trade agreement in more than 16 years.” President Barack Obama calls the deal a “win” for American workers.

Although a study from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) projected that the United States would win out slightly in the trade deficit with Korea due to the Korea Free Trade Agreement, an EPI study last year found the deal could cost about 159,000 American jobs.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has said the Korea deal would add more than $10 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, which an April Commerce statement said would lead to the creation of tens of thousands of American jobs.

Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota’s First Congressional District, who opposes the Colombia and Panama trade agreements, has been contacted by members of Askelin’s union. Walz’s spokesperson, Sarah Severs, said the congressman is still waiting to see the final form taken by the Korea agreement before he makes a decision.

“He feels that potential exists, but he hasn’t taken a position on it yet because he’s still waiting to see how it comes up,” Severs told the Minnesota Independent. “There have certainly been trade deals brokered in the past that have had a negative impact, and that is the result of poorly brokered deals.”

Severs said Walz is concerned about potential job losses, but also wants to help open borders to Minnesota manufacturers. He’s currently talking to all concerned parties, Severs said.

Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota has been a vocal advocate of the trade deal. Other members of the Minnesota congressional delegation have yet to take sides.

While unions like the AFL-CIO are pushing against the Korea Free Trade Agreement, hundreds of corporations are pulling for it in the U.S.-Korea FTA Business Coalition, which includes Minnesota companies like Target and 3M. The Huffington Post also points to a number of other groups that are lobbying for the agreement, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau, the Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Retail Industry Leadership Association.

The free trade agreements have been delayed by the debt ceiling debate at the Capitol. They aren’t expected to be introduced until after the August congressional recess, although supporters of the agreements are hopeful of earlier passage as Senate Republicans throw their weight behind the trade deals.