Korea’s new consul general for the Southeastern United States, Chun Hae-jin, is confident the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement will win approval of the legislatures of both countries.
“I believe it will and must pass because it is very beneficial to the economies of both countries,” he told GlobalAtlanta in a Nov. 21 interview.
Peter Underwood, director of Georgia’s trade office in Korea, recently told GlobalAtlanta that the agreement, if approved, will reduce trade barriers and result in an estimated 20-percent increase in trade between the U.S. and Korea.
The agreement, completed in April 2007 after 10 months of formal negotiations, would reduce or eliminate tariffs on many products traded between the two countries. It has yet to be ratified by the legislative bodies of either country.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab called the agreement “the most commercially significant free trade agreement the United States has concluded in nearly 20 years.”
However, President-elect Barack Obama has made it clear he has concerns.
“If South Korea is selling hundreds of thousands of cars to the United States and we can only sell less than 5,000 in South Korea, something is wrong,” Mr. Obama said during the presidential campaign.
Mr. Chun predicted, “There can be some small modifications and changes,” in the agreement, but it will eventually be approved by both countries.
He said the trade agreement’s benefits go beyond economics.
“It will strengthen the ties – the general ties,” between the U.S. and Korea, he said.
Mr. Chun also predicted that the inclusion of Korea in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program will encourage more Korean tourists to come here. They will now be allowed to travel to the United States for up to 90 without a visa.
Mr. Chun was named to the Atlanta diplomatic post in August. His previous overseas posting was in the Czech Republic. Eastern Europe, like the Southeastern United States, has attracted automobile manufacturing plants from Korean companies, Kia Motors and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing LLC.
The two regions are similar in that both are strongly linked logistically to Korea, Mr. Chun said. “Between Seoul and Eastern Europe and between Seoul and Atlanta, there are direct flights,” said Mr. Chun. “There is an active exchange of people.”
He can already detect differences between the two places as well, including Atlanta’s focus on business. While Prague, Czech Republic was full of tourists, Mr. Chun said, “Atlanta is full of people participating in some kind of conference.”
Mr. Chun was also stationed in the Republic of Gabon, Iran and Malaysia. He has been been an adjunct professor of diplomacy at Chung-an University in Seoul and an international relations adviser to the Seoul city government.
In his new post here, Mr. Chun plans to soon visit the new Kia factory in West Point, Ga., and the Hyundai plant near Montgomery, Ala.
In the Southeast region, “Each state of the six states has a Korean community,” said Mr. Chun.
His duties as consul general here are twofold, Mr. Chun said.
“One is to protect the safety and interest of the Korean nationals living in the region,” he said. “The other is through the context of the local people, the Americans, to promote the relationship between Korea and the area. There is no problem in the field of politics between the two countries. My main objective is to promote economic ties and also cultural relationships.”