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Obstacle to the KORUS FTA: “Michigan Phenomenon"

Posted July. 03, 2007 03:31,   


Last week the U.S. Senate passed a legislation stating, “The average fuel consumption efficiency of U.S.-manufactured cars will be improved to 56.3 km/3.79l (35 miles/gallon).” The current average mileage of 40.2 km (25 miles) was established in 1975.

The huge influence wielded by “automobile-friendly” congressmen is the reason why the automobile industry, which is globally competitive, has been able to maintain this “gas guzzler” mileage for more than three decades. Such lawmakers say that raising the gas mileage will increase the unit manufacturing cost, leading to the loss of their competitive edge compared to their European and Japanese counterparts, which in turn will put pressure on American auto workers.

Only recently has this trend been reversed by “cajoling and pleading by fellow Democrats,” wrote Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, in his column late last month. Now these same congressmen who have been protective of their auto industry are against the KORUS FTA as it is “disadvantageous to the U.S. auto industry.”

“Car Congressmen” Pairing with the Labor Union –

Remarks made in Detroit by U.S. Senator Hilary Clinton, widely-known as an “internationalist,” were shocking: “I do not approve of this FTA because it is against the interests of the U.S. auto-industry.” Many AFL-CIO members were there. The Washington Post criticized her, “Hilary Clinton was like a car salesperson, not a lawmaker.”

Some of the “car salesmen” are Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and others in the Democratic leadership. Barack Obama and John Edwards and other key Democratic presidential hopefuls share the same opinion, even though they have not made any official comment.

The AFL-CIO announces every year a grade of the job performance of lawmakers. They say, for instance, “Compared to our standard, lawmaker ‘A’ scored a certain percentage in his/her job performance.” If this figure falls below the 90 percent mark, the candidate will be criticized by his or her opponent in the next primary for ‘not being liberal enough.’”

A trade and diplomacy expert in Washington said on July 1, “The automobile industry is the easiest issue Democrats can use to go against the FTA. They are more interested in currying favor with labor organizations than in protecting the auto industry.”

Defending Michigan –

Through a caucus, an unofficial gathering for congressmen from both aisles, lawmakers discuss policies of certain industries. Automobile and auto parts caucuses in the Senate and an auto caucus in the House are major gatherings that work as a shield protecting the U.S. automobile industry.

Congressmen representing Michigan including the cities of Detroit, Lansing, Flint, and Grand Rapids are leading figures of these caucuses. Senator Carl Levin and Representative Dale E. Kildee, whose father was a blue collar worker at General Motors, are heading the caucuses, too. Two senators and 15 representatives in Michigan are known as the “guardian angels” for the automobile industry.

A Hyundai Motor insider said, “John Dingell (81), who has served 53 years in the House, should also be watched closely.” As a House Representative serving his 26th term, Dingell chairs the House Energy Committee, thus responsible for writing bills to limit gas emissions, drawing up measures for imported cars, and deregulation.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Improving fuel efficiency should be our priority in order to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, which will ultimately help curb global warming and stop giving ‘subsidies’ to terrorist-harboring countries.” Representative Dingell argued against this by saying, “Improving gas mileage can put excessive pressure on America’s three major automakers.”

Other lawmakers who are protective of the auto industry are Republicans including Vernon Ehlers, Fred Upton, Joe Schwartz, Mike Rogers, Joe Knollenberg, Candice Miller, and Thaddeus McCotter, and Democrats including Dale Kildee, Sander M. Levin, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and John Conyers, Jr. and many more from both Democratic and Republican parties.

Michigan Everywhere –

It is not just Michigan that is against the KORUS FTA. Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama where GM, Ford, and Chrysler have their manufacturing and parts plants, design, and engineering labs, are all against it vehemently.

At a House hearing on KORUS FTA on June 13, Representative David Scott (D-GA) said, “The U.S.-Korea FTA will do harm to the U.S. and benefit only one side.” He said this regardless of the fact that an hour or two away from the district he represents, suburban Atlanta, Korea’s KIA Motors is building its plant.

Scott said, “GM and Ford had to shut down their plants in my district.” His remarks were made to reflect uneasy feelings of the constituents in the neighboring districts, even though his district, due to the advances made by Korean and Japanese automakers, is intact.