Why Countries Sign Trade Deals "Against Their Interest"
Things USTR Should Give Up For Lent

Exciteable Young Men

As we pointed out last week, Obama's SOTU speech explicitly DID NOT call for passage of Bush's FTAs with Peru, Panama, and Colombia, just as it did not (unfortunately) spell out a new direction for trade deals that could gain the support of the American people.

He reiterated this "position" in his comments to the GOP House caucus:

CONGRESSMAN ROSKAM: -- Moving forward, I think all of us want to hit the reset button on 2009. How do we move forward? And on the job creation piece in particular, you mentioned Colombia, you mentioned Panama, you mentioned South Korea. Are you willing to work with us, for example, to make sure those FTAs get called, that's no-cost job creation? And ultimately, as you're interacting with world leaders, that's got to put more arrows in your quiver, and that's a very, very powerful tool for us. But the obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic caucus?...

THE PRESIDENT: On the specific issue of trade, you're right, there are conflicts within and fissures within the Democratic Party. I suspect there are probably going to be some fissures within the Republican Party, as well. I mean, you know, if you went to some of your constituencies, they'd be pretty suspicious about it, new trade agreements, because the suspicion is somehow they're all one way.

So part of what we've been trying to do is to make sure that we're getting the enforcement side of this tight, make sure that if we've got a trade agreement with China or other countries, that they are abiding with it -- they're not stealing our intellectual property or making sure that their non-tariff barriers are lowered even as ours are opened up. And my hope is, is that we can move forward with some of these trade agreements having built some confidence -- not just among particular constituency groups, but among the American people -- that trade is going to be reciprocal; that it's not just going to be a one-way street.

You are absolutely right though, Peter, when you say, for example, South Korea is a great ally of ours. I mean, when I visited there, there is no country that is more committed to friendship on a whole range of fronts than South Korea. What is also true is that the European Union is about to sign a trade agreement with South Korea, which means right at the moment when they start opening up their markets, the Europeans might get in there before we do.

So we've got to make sure that we seize these opportunities. I will be talking more about trade this year. It's going to have to be trade that combines opening their markets with an enforcement mechanism, as well as just opening up our markets. I think that's something that all of us would agree on. Let's see if we can execute it over the next several years.

But some in his administration seem to be taking their queues from elsewhere.

Here's Tim Geithner, as Inside U.S. Trade reported it:

"In a related development, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Feb. 3 testified to the House Ways and Means Committee that passing the pending three FTAs is a part of President Obama’s plan to double U.S. export in five years as is the effort to reach a Doha round deal. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) asked Geithner if the pending three trade agreements are part of the president’s plan 'this year' and Geithner responded 'absolutely.'"

Here's Gary Locke, according to IUT:

USTR is trying to " 'address the outstanding concerns we have with the pending free trade agreements' with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Asked at the event if Obama will submit the South Korea agreement to the Congress once the issue of access for U.S. autos in the Korean market is fixed, Locke said Obama is 'very supportive' of all three pending FTAs. He said that once issues with all three are resolved, they will be 'brought up' for a congressional vote."

And USTR Ron Kirk kinda takes the cake. According to IUT,

"According to [Rep. Jim] Moran, Kirk 'had very high praise for President Uribe [and] felt that he should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize as much as President Obama for all that he has done in Colombia.' Kirk also feels that the Colombia FTA 'would be a very positive step forward,' Moran said."

Maybe it's just the snow falling down in Washington, but I can't seem to see how we get from Obama's general support of the notion of trade to these very specific advocacy points by what are perhaps some overly eager members of the administration.

Put differently, I don't see how any of these FTAs get the administration anywhere but voted out of office. Obama seems to get that, but I'm not sure that his staff do.

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