Delayed Trade Pact with South Korea Appears Complete

Days after word came down that a new tax information exchange agreement renders the finalization of a U.S.-Panama free trade agreement imminent (see this week's eNews for full story), it appears an accord has been reached in a long-delayed pact with South Korea.

Widespread reports surfaced Friday that the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement (FTA) has been completed. Sticking points involving the auto industry, including plans to phase out the United States' 2.5% tariff on South Korean-produced vehicles within five years, appeared to have been ironed out. The U.S. auto lobby and trade unions have staunchly opposed the agreement, calling it imbalanced. Their critics have called objections protectionist. The trade deal had yet to be ratified late afternoon (EST) and, as such, specifics of the final pact remained murky heading into the weekend.

Business analysts had branded President Barack Obama's November trip to Asia a litmus test of the administration's interest in trade and perhaps even the president's once strong international influence.
A major talking point in the run-up to the G20 meeting held in Seoul, the hold-up on the U.S.-South Korea helped ensure Obama's trip to Asia largely was seen as a disappointment.

Obama, for his part, said the Korean agreement was not something he wanted to rush into unless a deal was "mutually beneficial." Unfortunately for the president, who has been branded by some industry experts as anti-trade and anti-business, it did not help his image among U.S. businesses that his declarations that the FTA would be finished before the G20 were not realized. Whether or not the seemingly impending ratification of the deal, as well as one with Panama, changes that view remains to be seen.

Brian Shappell, NACM staff writer

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