Obama on PTAs with Korea, Colombia, and Panama

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Yesterday, President Obama said at the Chamber of Commerce:

We finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. And by the way, it’s a deal that has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans. That’s the kind of deal that I will be looking for as we pursue trade agreements with Panama and Colombia, as we work to bring Russia into the international trading system.

Keith Hennessey, Director of the NEC under President Bush, says:

The problem is that the U.S. already has trade agreements with Panama and Colombia. The President is in reality saying that he is undoing those deals… When President Obama arrived, he said the South Korea FTA negotiated during the Bush Administration was a bad deal for the United States. Rather than submitting it to Congress for approval, he directed his USTR Ron Kirk to renegotiate certain parts of it with the Koreans… We see from yesterday’s remarks that the President wants this to be the model for future trade agreements. This gives labor unions and their Congressional allies tremendous leverage to water down or even block FTAs they don’t like.

That’s one interpretation of the remarks. It’ll be interesting to see what the administration actually does on trade going forward. Given the relative economic unimportance of these PTAs, I think the efforts to wrap up the WTO’s Doha negotiations this year may be more interesting.


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