The president said today in Seoul that he wants Congress to ratify a free-trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, preferably by next year. If this happens, it would be a big win for American industry: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it’s worth $35 billion in American exports.
It would also be the first significant foreign-policy win for President Obama — if (and that’s a big “if”) he can get Democrats in Congress to go along with it.
Congress has been skeptical of trade deals since Democrats took over in 2007, the continuation of a big about-face on trade by the party. From John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, postwar American presidents (and Congresses, since Democrats ruled Capitol Hill for most of those years) pushed the cause of free trade, to the benefit of Americans and others around the world. Over the last decade or so, however, labor unions and environmentalists have dulled Democrats’ free-trade instincts in the name of imposing their ideological preferences and protections on our trading partners. Another potentially significant FTA, with Colombia, remains in limbo for this reason.
Today, Democrats’ chief concern with a South Korea FTA is how it would affect the U.S. auto industry. Well, The Wall Street Journal reports today that our auto industry stands to gain as much as any sector of our economy — precisely because South Korea has until now protected its own auto industry fiercely. Now it is willing to let down some of those barriers, if Congress will only sign on the dotted line. Agricultural exports also figure to increase, which could be good for Georgia.
For once, I wish President Obama luck in twisting arms at the Capitol.
(See? I can give the guy credit when he deserves it!)