Teamsters head opposes Korean trade pact

Washington — Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, in a break from the Obama administration and the United Auto Workers union, opposes the Korea Free Trade Agreement. The administration plans to formally submit the revised agreement to Congress in the coming weeks. "Though the revised agreement is much improved, it still falls short," Hoffa said in a statement today. "After careful review and discussion, we have concluded we cannot support this trade agreement." Hoffa, who heads the 1.4 million-member union, said the United States has lost 5 million jobs since it approved the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. "The last thing America's middle class needs right now is 'Son of NAFTA,' " Hoffa said. "We desperately need to reverse direction and protect our economy instead of giving it away to our diplomatic partners." The South Korea trade agreement is the largest since NAFTA. South Korea is the 12th largest economy in the world. Hoffa cited the U.S. International Trade Commission estimate that the trade deal would increase the U.S. trade deficit. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the proposed trade deal with South Korea would cost 159,000 U.S. jobs over seven years. Hoffa also argued it would hurt some of the highest-paying U.S. industries, including motor vehicles and parts, electronics equipment and metal products. "This deal would allow so-called 'Korean' cars sold in the United States to be made mostly in other countries because of the ridiculously low rule-of-origin requirement," Hoffa said. "I also have serious security concerns because the deal would cover products assembled in South Korea made with parts from North Korea." Some opponents are worried that it would be easier for Korean companies to export vehicles with more Chinese-made content under the deal. UAW President Bob King said the union supported the deal after President Barack Obama won key changes. King said last month that while the UAW isn't entirely happy with the deal, it is "dramatically better" in its revised Many other labor leaders oppose the Korea Free Trade pact. Ford Motor Co. opposed the 2007 Korea Free Trade Agreement reached by the Bush administration because it "essentially locked out American-made vehicles from South Korea," said Stephen Biegun, vice president of international governmental affairs at Ford in testimony last month. Ford said the revised deal "makes significant improvements. It would keep the 2.5 percent U.S. tariff on autos in place until the fifth year. At the same time, Korea will immediately cut its tariff on U.S. auto imports in half, from 8 percent to 4 percent, and fully eliminate that tariff in the fifth year." It also protects U.S. automakers by letting the United States keep its 25-percent truck tariff until the eighth year and then phase it out by the 10th year while Korea eliminates its 10 percent tariff on U.S. trucks immediately. By David Shepardson, Detroit News