Why Don’t Koreans Buy More Ford F-150 Trucks?

Ford Motor Company ran a full-age ad this morning in The Washington Post urging Congress and President Obama to reject the pending free-trade agreement with South Korea unless its provisions on automobiles are changed to promote the sale of more U.S.-made vehicles in Korea.

To drive home the point, the ad shows 52 cars with Korean flags in the windshield dominating one car sporting an American flag. The ad claims that, “For every 52 cars Korea ships here, the U.S. can only export one there.”

As my colleague Dan Ikenson blogged earlier, Ford blames the disparity on Korean trade barriers that discourage auto imports. Ford demands that the Obama administration “fix” the agreement before it can be approved by Congress.

In a study we released last month analyzing the agreement, Cato senior fellow Doug Bandow offered a different explanation of why we import so many more cars from Korea than the Koreans import from the United States, and why the agreement would go a long way to addressing legitimate concerns about barriers to U.S. auto exports:

In terms of tariff reduction, the agreement would deliver the “level playing field” many members of Congress demand. Tariffs on imported passenger cars and parts and accessories are currently 8 percent in Korea and 2.5 percent in the United States. Most of those tariffs would be eliminated upon enactment of the agreement, and all by its full implementation.

Although the FTA reduces South Korean tariffs, American automakers complain that the accord does not address non-tariff restrictions. … In fact, social and cultural barriers may be more important than government policies. One problem is auto size, since American cars are larger than those typically preferred by apartment-dwelling South Koreans. Even if all tariff and non-tariff-barriers were removed, the average Korean would still be much less inclined to buy a Ford F-150 pickup truck, a Chevy Suburban, or a Jeep Grand Cherokee than the average American would be inclined to buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient Korean-made vehicle such as a Hyundai Sonata. No free trade agreement can change fundamental consumer preferences.

Instead of complaining about all those Korean cars Americans want to buy, we should be glad for an agreement that opens both markets to greater competition.