Korean Ambassador Han Visits Packer Avenue Marine Terminal

February 17, 2011 (Pictured Above- Tom Holt Jr. & Ambassador Han at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal)

Hyundai Motor Co. cars being unloaded at Philadelphia's port became props as U.S. business lobbyists and the South Korean government pushed for approval of a free-trade deal.

When President Barack Obama and congressional leaders discuss the agreement, renegotiated in December and set to be submitted to Congress in the coming weeks, they cite increases in U.S. exports to Korea. In Philadelphia, the South Korean-made cars are unloaded from South Korean-made cargo ships by South Korean-made cranes.

“This isn't a story we have told well,” Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, said yesterday of the scene intended to show that imports are good for the American economy as well. “But America is about freedom of choice.”

The Chamber, the largest U.S. business lobbying group, arranged for South Korea's Ambassador Han Duk Soo to visit the Philadelphia port and meet local political leaders to make the case for the agreement, the largest new deal to be sent to Congress since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

Hyundai, the largest South Korean automaker, agreed last year to shift deliveries from New York and Baltimore to Philadelphia, meaning 150,000 Kia Souls, Hyundai Accents and Kia Rios are sent through the port's Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. More than 1,800 were unloaded onto a port lot yesterday.

In addition, Hyundai Rotem Co., a unit of the auto company, is shipping the chassis of rail cars to the port and then building them out for sale to the local transit authority, Hyung Wook Kim, president of Hyundai Rotem USA, said in an interview.

Union Jobs

The imports are creating hundreds of jobs for union longshoremen, mechanics and assembly workers, said Thomas Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp., which runs the port operations.

Because of those jobs, the local longshoreman's union said it supports the free-trade agreement, which would eliminate tariffs on trade between the nations and set rules for investment and the protection of patents and copyrights.

“We're on a decline in the United States and we're not creating any jobs,” Martin Mascuilli, the secretary-treasurer of the local union that represents port workers, said in an interview. “Maybe with this deal we'll be able to sell more cars in Korea. If we aren't able to export our cars, what are we going to do with them?”

The AFL-CIO labor federation and unions in Washington have opposed the deal, saying it would cost U.S. jobs by increasing pressure on companies to move operations outside the U.S. and import more.

Lost Jobs

“The United States has lost 5 million jobs since Nafta, and the last thing America's middle class needs right now is ‘Son of Nafta',” Teamsters President James Hoffa said in a statement.

The Chamber of Commerce is organizing U.S. visits by Korean officials and business leaders as a way to highlight the benefits of the deal and counter unhappiness among voters and lawmakers about previous agreements, which many blame for lost jobs and stagnant wages.

Han said he has been meeting with lawmakers as well, to help push broad support for the deal amid a consistent complaint: “They say, ‘Look at Nafta, that was bad; look at China, that was bad. Why would we do this?'”

Unlike the trade deal with Mexico and the vote on China's membership into the World Trade Organization, Korea is a more developed nation and has a falling, not rising, trade deficit with the U.S., he said.

“When it comes to Korea there is no word like ‘outsourcing' or taking away jobs,” Han said. “The industries of the two countries are quite complementary.”

Han didn't have to make that point to Harry Cassell, operator of the Korean-made crane at the port. As Han left a meeting with local politicians, Cassell stopped him and shook his hand: “I appreciate your Korean workmanship,” he said.


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