“Our economic power was strong; now our political power is coming up,” he said. The Korean chamber, which represents Korean companies with operations in the U.S., has sent letters in support of the free-trade pact to more than 70 lawmakers who sit on relevant trade subcommittees in the House and Senate as well to leadership in both parties.
Despite the increase in political awareness, there are no Korean-Americans serving in Congress. The 30-member Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) heads, has not taken a position on the trade agreement.
The lobbying effort comes as lawmakers and the administration have been debating how to proceed with free-trade deals.
Although the Obama administration and South Korean officials reached an agreement on the trade deal last year, Republican leaders have been reluctant to move ahead until the White House agrees to proceed with other free-trade pacts with Colombia and Panama. Meanwhile, some Democrats and labor leaders have been opposed to the pacts, which they say will result in the loss of U.S. jobs.
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on the South Korea trade agreement.
Last year, the South Korean government beefed up its lobbying effort, bringing on a number of top K Street firms, including Singer Bonjean Strategies, Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld, and the Glover Park Group.
In recent filings with the Justice Department, Glover Park Group officials documented that they had spent much of the winter reaching out to Congressional offices trying to arrange meetings with South Korean Embassy officials. For example, the filings note that on Jan. 25, embassy officials met with Daniel Sepulveda, a senior adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Although not as large a share of the population as some other ethnic groups, Korean-Americans are concentrated in a handful of electorally important states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Washington.
The Korean-American population stood at just more than 1 million people in the 2000 census, according to the website of the National Association of Korean Americans. That represented a 35 percent increase from the 1990 census.
Overby, who has accompanied the South Korean ambassador on a tour of the United States to promote the trade pact, said interest in the trade agreement comes from surprising areas such as Ocala, Fla., where South Korean delegations have visited because of their interest in local racehorses. An 8 percent tax on the sale of those horses would be eliminated under the free-trade agreement.