To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the demise of a U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement are grossly exaggerated, said Frank Vargo, vice president for international economic affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers.
Press reports this week drew links between another delay in “KORUS” free trade talks and apparent damage to President Obama’s international influence from Democrats’ heavy losses in the Nov. 2 election. The Bush administration began South Korea talks, but the path toward an agreement has been rocky.
U.S. trade groups see an agreement as a major boost to Obama’s export objectives. Officials say a free trade agreement could increase exports by $10 billion per year and support 70,000 U.S. jobs.
By The Numbers: U.S. Trade with South Korea.
Talks stalled this week along familiar lines, “cows and cars,” greater access to the South Korean market for beef producers and automobile manufacturers that have been stumbling blocks before, according to the Nelson Report, a newsletter that specializes in Asia trade. The report noted that the issues have caused stiff internal political pressure for Obama and South Korea President Lee Myung-bak.
There was optimism that the two nations could strike a deal while Obama was in South Korea for the meeting of the G20 economic powers, but Vargo said Friday that it’s more important in trade negotiations to “get it right than to hit any particular deadline.”
“We were not expecting that the agreement would be ready to be sent up to the Hill until the next Congress,” Vargo said. “Every trade negotiation that I can think of, you have breakdowns. They will get together again, but it’s important to get it right or it won’t pass Congress.”
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