It’s been a long and frustrating (and bloody exhausting … ) seventeen months for American trade policy. But on the margins of last month’s G20 summit, President Obama at last committed to complete the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).
Seoul hosts the next G20 summit in November. So the move—and Obama’s timing—makes a lot of sense. Indeed, as my friend Phil Levy puts it, “the failure to move on KORUS was calling into question U.S. credibility on trade in general and U.S. standing in Asia in particular. It would have been exceedingly awkward to show up in Seoul for the November G20 meeting with nothing to offer.” Or as I put it a bit more bluntly on this blog back in May, “Here’s the thing about trade policy: the United States can’t be a leader in Asia without one.”
The good news is that the President has now instructed U.S. negotiators to wrap things up in time for his November visit to Seoul. And, in the meantime, he’ll have to gird his administration for the coming fight with a bevy of unhappy constituencies: on Capitol Hill, in labor, and ultimately within his own party.
But watching the administration prep the ground on KORUS, I couldn’t help but wonder whether an FTA of this scope would ever have moved forward had the relationship at stake not been with the Republic of Korea.