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U.S.-Korea trade pact could open doors to state exports

Experts say Oregon’s connection to Pacific Rim will create jobs

Oregon can sell more blueberries, french fries and chainsaw blades to South Korea now that the United States and South Korea have inked a free-trade agreement. A panel of trade experts spoke Tuesday about those and other job-creating prospects for Oregon businesses at a World Trade Center forum in downtown Portland. A U.S. International Trade Commission study projected that the United States could lose more jobs than it gains from the trade pact, which was ratified by both nations in the past two months. However, many analysts say Oregon will be a net winner from the deal because of its prime Pacific Rim location, port and other assets. South Korean exports sent through the Port of Portland were valued at $937 million last year, while Korean imports totaled about $800 million, much of it from Hyundai cars. Even if Korea winds up exporting more Hyundais here, that will create more local longshore jobs. “The export benefits really should be much greater than the import loss,” said Michael Meyers, economist with Business Oregon, the state economic development agency. Oregon’s potato and fruit growers have ripe opportunities. Korea is already the largest foreign buyer of Oregon french fries, but the trade pact phases out the 18 percent tariff on U.S. french fry exports and the 30 percent tariff levied on frozen strawberries. Oregon already sells $1.7 million worth of chainsaw blades to Korea, but that could grow with the lifting of an 8-percent tariff. Koreans, increasingly into healthy and organic foods, see blueberries as a healthy but very expensive choice. Oregon was the first U.S. state permitted to ship fresh blueberries to Korea, said Amanda Welker, of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. She sees opportunities to increase those exports, and expand Koreans’palate for Oregon cranberries, blackberries and filberts. Though Koreans don’t eat much cheese, the 36-percent tariff eventually will disappear, and more Koreans are getting a taste for cheese as they travel the world, Welker said. Juseong Lim, the first secretary of the Korean embassy in Washington, D.C., said the trade pact also should lead to greater South Korean investments in the U.S., which have topped U.S. investments in his country in recent years. One growing “export” is Korean university students. There are about 1 million Koreans studying in the United States, Lim said, far larger, per capita, than the number of Chinese students here. Many Koreans would love to send their children here for middle and high school, he said, so they can become fluent in English before they start university here. Arthur Stamoulis, who led an Oregon Fair Trade Coalition campaign against the free-trade pact, said it’s appropriate to focus on using the deal to foster job creation. However, he noted that Oregon is projected to lose jobs in the semiconductor, electronics and solar industries from the trade deal. “It’s naive and shortsighted to think that this isn’t going to cost jobs in Oregon,” Stamoulis said.