I have long followed and supported both successful market entry of Korean business into the US and American firms to Korea. This mutual success has centered on product, retail and quick service restaurants, with limited opportunities in the service sectors. The KORUS FTA will make a huge change in this exchange. In the area of services, I see KORUS FTA as a game changer.
A few weeks ago, United States Secretary of State John Kerry visited Korea and spoke about the importance of trade between our two nations. This month, President Park will visit the White House to reaffirm our countries’ mutual commitment and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Korea strategic alliance. Since its implementation last year, the KORUS FTA has given that alliance a new dynamic. One area of the agreement that should receive more attention is trade in services.
At its core, trade in services is trade in ideas. Whether legal, financial, technical, or in the tourism industry, the services exchanged between the U.S. and Korea expand mutual access to highly skilled talent. That talent is vital in generating the ideas that will define our economies tomorrow. In fact, today’s leaders in the U.S. service industries are using the KORUS FTA to recruit and nurture that talent.
Unlike the banking and insurance sectors, non-Korean legal and accounting firms faced entry barriers prior to the KORUS FTA. Today, American law firms like Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton are able to open offices in Korea under the KORUS agreement. Law firm Ropes and Gray, another U.S. Korea Connect success story, sees their new ability to open physical locations in Korea as a way to show their dedication to Korean clients.
Outside the obvious benefits to service related firms, under the KORUS FTA, U.S. businesses are generating and exchanging ideas more freely. But the best is yet to come. American companies have expressed the need to hire additional Korean professionals to help them navigate the Korean marketplace. Professional visa reforms under consideration by the U.S. Congress will fulfill that still unmet need, allowing companies to take greater advantage of the KORUS FTA.
As the pace of business quickens, service providers need a regulatory framework that provides them maximum flexibility. A fluid business mechanism that promotes and enhances innovative ideas is essential for prosperity in both countries. That’s precisely what the KORUS FTA does for the service industry.
About Don Southerton
Don Southerton has held a life-long interest in Korea and the rich culture of the country. He has authored numerous publications with topics centering on the Korean auto industry, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism, and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. Southerton is often called upon by the media (the BBC World Service, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg TV, Korea Herald, Korea Times, Yonhap, Wall Street Journal, Forbes) to comment on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations. His firm Bridging Culture Worldwide provides strategy, consulting and training to Korea-based global business.