South Korea signed on to a key free trade agreement with a nation from the West this week. That nation, however, was not the United States to the chagrin of business analysts who believed President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this month was a litmus test of the administration's interest on trade.
Many words could be used, largely dependent on the political leanings of the analyst, to describe Obama's trip to South Korea for the G-20 economic summit - It would require perhaps the rosiest-colored glasses to consider "success" among them. A major talking point in the run-up to the G-20 meeting, held in Seoul, was the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement that has been languishing since 2007. Though Obama vowed to have the agreement hammered out before the G-20 convened, no deal was struck even upon the president's exit from Asia. South Korea did forge a new free trade agreement with Peru, which should boost the Asian nation's automotive export prospects. Ironically, it's the auto sector that's a major part of a sticking point, as South Korea has largely rejected importing U.S. cars on the reasoning that they are bigger polluters than domestic cars. The U.S. auto lobby and trade unions have staunchly opposed the agreement, calling it imbalanced.
Obama, for his part, says the Korean free trade agreement remains a priority and that he didn't want to rush into a deal that wasn't mutually beneficially just to get it completed. Unfortunately for the president, who has been branded by some industry experts as anti-trade and anti-business, finishing the trade agreement was seen as an important step to proving the administration is serious about trade.
(Editor's Note: See full story, including analysis on Obama's activity at the G-20 summit, in today's eNews, which will be available late Thursday afternoon).
Brian Shappell, NACM staff writer