Monday, August 23, 2010

WaPo on the KORUS FTA being back on the agenda

The Washington Post is reporting on the resurgent fortunes of the KORUS FTA, thanks to ROK Ambassador to the US Han Duk-soo's barnstorming tour of the American Heartland to promote the free-trade agreement penned by the two countries' current leaders' predecessors:
"Wave the flag," the speaker exhorted the audience. "This is an opportunity to stimulate the U.S. economy at no cost to U.S. taxpayers."

But the man on the podium wasn't the typical business booster. He was South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, who has assumed the unusual role of a foreign official promoting U.S. jobs. With the Obama administration pledging a major new push to ratify the agreement, Han has gone on the stump in cities such as Montgomery, Ala., Peoria, Ill., and Detroit to build American support for free trade and allay concerns that his country is trying to snatch U.S. manufacturing jobs.

"I'd like to see more Ford and General Motors cars in Seoul," said Han, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran Korean minister who can mix quips about the Cubs and White Sox with the arcana of tariff schedules.
Perhaps the enthusiastic crowd thought they were there to see a showing of the Marx Brothers' classic, Duck Soup. At any rate, it's not just Ambassador Han who's pushing the deal. President Obama's trade representative is also trying to proselytize on the new covenant:
Obama criticized the trade agreement as a presidential candidate but has won a commitment from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for more concessions. Obama wants to have revisions or amendments to discuss with the Korean leader when they meet in November -- after the midterm congressional elections.

U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk, whose job more typically involves overseas negotiations, has mounted a domestic lobbying effort, visiting cities and districts hit hard by the recession to argue that "when you do trade right, America can win."

"In some cases they think I am a three-headed monster" for raising an issue some feel has undercut the U.S. middle class, Kirk said at a recent briefing.
Frankly, I think some of the negotiations are the result of whining by American companies that would rather grouse about past wrongs than innovate for the future, and I think it's an utter embarrassment that Washington is playing the "we signed an agreement but now we want to renegotiate" role that Seoul has apparently outgrown. But if that's what it takes to get this passed, then so be it. In the end, I believe this is a win-win for both sides.

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