This week, President Obama hosted South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak at the White House. The meeting was cordial, of course, and the countries vowed their mutual allegiance, of course. But everyone had to tiptoe around the elephant in the room: the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. ...
The Koreans did their part: The government opened its market to some U.S. beef exports, a politically difficult and highly divisive move that brought over a million protesters into the streets of Seoul and threatened to bring down the Korean cabinet. The United States did... nothing. We left the Koreans standing at the altar. Democrats in Congress, including then-Senator Obama, opposed the agreement. Perhaps the most significant reason given for opposition was that the Korean government meddled too much in its auto sector.
Actually, Korea had agreed to cut its tariffs on autos and to take some measures to address its non-tariff auto trade barriers; however, opponents contended that those measures would not go far enough. This criticism, of course, predated the Obama administration's decision to take over much of the U.S. auto sector and erect its own non-tariff trade barriers.
IPE@UNC covered the proposed U.S./S. Korea free trade deal in a series of posts.
It's really too bad Obama and Myung-Bak tiptoed around the controversy. Yawn. Things would have been different if the meeting had taken place in Seoul rather than Washington. The South Korean parliament deals with such matters much differently: