Lee Myung-Bak, Korea's President-elect, will be inaugurated later this month. In anticipation, Barak Obama had comments on U.S. Korean policy inserted into the Congressional Record: INAUGURATION OF PRESIDENT ELECT LEE MYUNG-BAK this past Monday (February 11).
The short statement covered a number of topics. The key trade statement was:
The U.S.-Korea economic relationship has also benefited both nations and deepened our ties. I look forward as well to supporting ways to increase our bilateral trade and investment ties through agreements paying proper attention to our key industries and agricultural sectors, such as autos, rice, and beef, and to protection of labor and environmental standards. Regrettably,the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement does not meet this standard.
- The Koreans did refuse to liberalize rice. I haven't seen this objection raised often recently. But as the U.S. debate develops opponents of the agreement may raise it more often. At least one modeling effort has found that the U.S. could be a loser if Korea relaxes its rice import restrictions because we subsidize rice so heavily. The subsidies would cause disproportionate resources to shift to this sector if trade were liberalized (Negotiating the Korea–United States Free Trade Agreement, Schott, Bradford and Moll, page 6)
- He doesn't say outright that he will vote against this agreement. Maybe his objections could be dealt with - everyone expects beef to be taken care of before the debate starts so in a way thats a non-issue. Maybe his remaining labor and environmental concerns can be addressed through supplementary letters clarifying each side's understandings? Auto opposition may be addressed or mitigated by supplementary legislation. One observer has suggested that
But the Bush administration needs to respond constructively to Democratic concerns about the FTA and the competitiveness of the US auto industry. For example, federal programs could assist the companies in complying with new fuel economy standards and financing their "legacy" pension and healthcare costs. In return Speaker Pelosi should encourage Chairman Rangel to negotiate a legislative compromise. Such a deal should focus on domestic measures that would help US automakers compete at home and abroad but also—for political reasons—may have to augment the FTA’s auto safeguard provision (which seeks to ensure that commitments to reduce nontariff barriers to auto trade will be faithfully enforced) (The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement: A Summary Assessment, Schott, last page)
- There seems to be an implied commitment to engage with the Koreans to seek new trade liberalizing agreements.