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Let the watering down begin - Korea, enviro deal

Just weeks after the legal text of the Deathstar Deal has been released, the Bush administration is already backing away from the minimal concessions it gave to some congressional Democrats in exchange for their consideration of pending FTAs. Here's from today's Inside U.S. Trade:

The United States last week accepted two changes to South Korea’s obligations under a bilateral free trade agreement signed on June 30... Specifically, the U.S. ... signed a second side letter that environmentalists say appears to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would bring an environmental dispute settlement case against Korea...

Private-sector sources speculated that this environment letter was sought by Korea as a way to ensure that the U.S. will not seek dispute settlement against it for not enforcing the MEAs to which it is party...

These sources said Korea is likely in compliance with the MEAs already, but that the side letter could be a non-binding gesture by USTR designed to assure Korea that dispute settlement is unlikely in any case.

Environmental sources said the letter may be intended to give the U.S. government domestic political cover if it gets criticized for failure to launch an environmental dispute settlement case against Korea despite compliance problems.

Regular readers that a similar Bush administration side letter by none other than Bob Zoellick eviscerated the Jordan FTA's better-than-NAFTA labor standards. Is this latest Korea side deal a sign of more watering down to come? The pick-and-choose-on-NAFTA model members better hope not.

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