A Korean official encouraged attendees at a World Affairs Council of Atlanta luncheon to actively support the recently implemented Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and not let its opponents overshadow its benefits.

Citing criticism that followed implementation of NAFTA, Sang-min Lee, first secretary of the Korean embassy in Washington, said at the Commerce Club downtown March 22 that supporters of the agreement needed to remain engaged to ensure that its goals are fully realized.

After years of controversy, the agreement was passed by legislative bodies in Korea and the U.S. Eighty-three U.S senators voted for the agreement including Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and 270 members of the House of Representatives including eight from Georgia. The agreement went into effect on March 15.

Despite this support, Mr. Lee said his government would make every effort to remain active to assure that it would not suffer the same fate as NAFTA.

“After their victory in 1994, NAFTA’s supporters declared victory and walked off the field,” he said. “They left their opponents to criticize without any pushback from the other side.”

Mr. Lee also cited free trade opponents who blame the recession of the past few years on NAFTA and other free trade agreements, which they say led to job losses in the U.S.

As part of the Korean initiative to maintain support for the agreement, Mr. Lee announced the launch of www.uskoreaconnect.org, a website that encourages representatives of Korean and U.S. companies to “connect, collaborate and succeed.”

The site has a U.S. state-by-state breakdown of the current trade with Korea, and for those who sign up offers white page reports, news, announcements of trading opportunities, a calendar of FTA rollout updates, specialized research and relevant events.

It also allows individuals to indicate if they would like to visit the embassy in Washington to discuss opportunities under the agreement. And it encourages companies to submit their success stories. Already representatives of companies across the U.S. have included their endorsements of the agreement.

Mr. Lee made a spirited defense of the advantages the agreement presents for U.S. companies, including service companies. For instance, U.S. law firms will be able to represent both U.S. and Korean companies in Korea by 2017.

Companies seeking low skilled, cheap labor will “be disappointed,” however, and will have to look elsewhere, he said, in part because Korean workers are more extensively unionized than in the U.S.

He praised the skilled nature of Korea’s workforce and the country’s 98 percent high school graduate rate. Korea enjoys a 3.4 percent unemployment rate.

While the U.S. would see its exports to Korea increase annually by $10.1 billion and its gross domestic product rise by $12 billion, Korea also would benefit, he said, due to lower tariffs for its goods in the U.S., access to U.S. consumer products in its stores and an improvement in its global standards, particularly in the service sector.

Joshua Huck, unit chief in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs, also participated on the luncheon panel with Mr. Lee along with Charles L. Pritchard, president of the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute.

Mr. Huck said that U.S. Korean relations have entered into “a special time” and more of a partnership given Korea’s emergence as an economic power.

The relationship began as a partnership focused on opposition to North Korea but has become mutually supportive on a wide array of issues including economic development initiatives and global environmental concerns, countering nuclear proliferation and piracy on the open seas.

As the U.S.’s military budgets have been stretched, he said Korean troops have been deployed around the world, most often as part of United Nations peacekeeping operations such as in Lebanon. In Haiti and Afghanistan, they are involved in reconstruction projects.

Besides common security and economic interests, Mr. Huck said that the U.S.-Korea relationship also was based on shared values including support of free markets and human rights.

The Korea Economic Institute joined the World Affairs Council in hosting the luncheon. It was supported by the Korea-Southeast U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia State Asian Studies Center.

To find out about other World Affairs Council events, go here.