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Playing Politics with Trade Policy

It’s good to see Congress passed the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The only question is: What took so long? The accords with South Korea and Panama were finished in 2007, the one with Colombia in 2006. So why are we only now ratifying them? Every year we waited was one more year of delayed economic benefits and lost jobs–in particular when it comes to trade with South Korea, the world’s 14th largest economy.  It’s not as if labor unions, which are always (myopically) opposed to free trade,  could not have been appeased; Congress also approved a benefit program for workers who lost their jobs to foreign competition.

Someone with a conspiratorial frame of mind might speculate that Obama waited this long to make sure there was no chance of a left-wing primary challenger. Or maybe he just got desperate enough to generate any spark of jobs creation for such an anemic economy. Or perhaps his well-advertised friendship with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who is now visiting the U.S., was the deciding factor. Whatever the case, it’s nice that the president and his party finally got behind the free trade consensus which has dominated U.S. politics for more than half a century.

I only wish it had happened sooner. Much sooner. And I wish Obama was negotiating fresh trade agreements rather than limiting himself to reluctantly pushing through those reached by the preceding administration. The fact the agreements were finally ratified should not excuse Obama from the charge of playing politics with trade policy.

 



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