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Technology can strengthen the U.S.-Korea alliance

Tomorrow, President Biden will hold his first bilateral summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington, DC. The visit comes nearly 15 years after the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) was signed, creating a historic economic and strategic partnership between our nations.

As a former trade negotiator for the U.S. government, I helped negotiate this agreement to further the United States’ and Korea’s shared goal of lowering trade barriers and strengthening our economic cooperation. In the years since KORUS was signed, I’m proud to see how much the U.S-Korea economic relationship has matured. Bilateral trade in goods and services has increased from $104 billion in 2007 to nearly $170 billion in 2019. U.S. exports to Korea today support an estimated 358,000 jobs. And KORUS has shown that government leadership can spur private sector collaboration, unlocking new opportunities for cooperation across the Pacific and benefiting consumers. 

Google’s experiences offer a great case in point. Over the past decade, we have partnered with great Korean companies to bring better products to consumers in Korea, the U.S. and the world. For example, we have closely collaborated with companies like Samsung and LG to expand access to innovative smartphones and devices for everyone. That, in turn, has nurtured a digital economy where developers are able to distribute their apps to global markets and grow their businesses. Just this week, we announced our newest initiative: Google and Samsung are unifying our wearable device operating systems, which will provide consumers with powerful health information and the ability to communicate on the go, while creating new opportunities for developers and device makers. We’ve similarly had great partnerships with other Korean technology leaders like SK, Hyundai Motor, Kakao, NCSoft, Nexon and NetMarble.

Today, the U.S. and Korea are at an important inflection point in our economic alliance, as our nations recover from the effects of COVID-19. We can reenergize our bilateral relationship by partnering even more closely on technology. The U.S. and Korea are among the world’s leaders in technology — in everything from smartphones and software to apps and artificial intelligence. These complementary strengths present an enormous opportunity for deeper collaboration. 

There is, however, still a great deal of work ahead to realize that opportunity. There remain a number of areas where collaboration would be strengthened by better alignment on technology and digital regulation and policy. As we have seen globally in recent years, unilateral attempts to regulate the digital economy deter trade and create obstacles for greater investment. Inconsistent regulations make it harder for companies to work together, increase costs for consumers, and risk fragmenting the global, open internet that both countries rely on.

That’s why we believe Presidents Biden and Moon should launch a high-level dialogue on technology issues. Such a dialogue would elevate the importance of technology cooperation, enhance supply chain resiliency and promote common rules of the road for the digital space that will preserve an open, free and secure global internet. This dialogue would also help the two countries jointly address challenges in the technology space that risk deterring trade in our sector and beyond.

An enhanced technology relationship would serve the two countries’ economic interests, including the thousands of American and Korean small and medium-sized businesses that rely on digital tools to reach customers and stay connected. And it's not just our economies that would benefit. Increasingly, technology cooperation is also at the core of our security alliance. A common approach to digital standards and mutual commitment to transparent, non-discriminatory, and interoperable regulatory frameworks would reinforce that alliance, while also enabling digital cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. 

The U.S.-Korea alliance has endured because of our shared values and belief that we are best positioned to tackle future challenges working in partnership. Technology represents the future of both our economies. By putting digital cooperation high on the bilateral agenda and launching a technology dialogue, the U.S. and Korea can give new momentum to our economic and strategic alliance, propelling it for the next 15 years. 

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