It’s not just the UAW that is upset about free trade agreements. The Koreans are likewise. The offices of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association were raided by investigators of the country’s Fair Trade Commission, the Financial Times reports. The agency alleges that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Toyota Motor were involved in price collusion.
|Imports to Korea Jan/Feb 2013|
It just so happens that the four are the most successful importers to Korea, accounting for 80 percent of car imports. After free trade agreements with the EU and the U.S. were enacted, exports took surprising turns. Car imports to Korea were up 23 percent in January and February, amounting to 12.9 percent of total sales, compared with only 4.9 per cent in 2009. Korea’s total exports to the EU increased by only 1 percent in the first year after the trade pact came into force, while trade from Europe to Korea rose 37 percent.
American carmakers are not under suspicion of collusion, no wonder; they did not have a big impact on Korea. Biggest American importer to the nation is Ford, up 72 percent.
Ford is against free trade agreements, especially with Japan, and calls the negotiations a “masquerade,” Reuters says. Stephen Biegun, Ford vice president of international governmental affairs, still blames the nasty Japanese for a closed market they say is wide open. There is zero import tax on cars to Japan, and even if the alleged non-tariff barriers are gone, it won’t make Biegun happy. He said change must reach into “the very bowels of the Japanese economy.” And because the Japanese will object to foreigners reaching into their bowels, Biegun will continue to complain.
Refreshing honesty comes from a surprising camp. Four dozen democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barak Obama, warning against a free trade agreement with Japan. The alleged closed market found only passing mention. The lawmakers don’t worry about exports to Japan. They are worried about imports from Japan. Says the letter:
“In an industry with razor-thin profit margins, the elimination of the 2.5 percent car tariff (as well as the 25 percent truck tariff) would be a major benefit to Japan without any gain for a vital American industry, leading to more Japanese imports, less American production and fewer American jobs.”
What Detroit is REALLY worried about is a fall of the Chicken Tax. Detroit has a near monopoly on trucks, which drive its profits.
There is one part about free trade agreements automakers the world over love: A harmonization of standards. Biegun said that the cost of designing and producing according to separate EU and U.S. safety standards was between $3 billion and $6 billion, different environmental rules added a cost of $1.5-2 billion.