Yeah, just grrreat:
President Barack Obama told congressional critics of a free trade deal with South Korea he would consider asking Seoul for changes to labor, investment and financial provisions of the pact to help win approval of the deal in Congress, a lawmaker said on Thursday.See, kids, there's the silver lining: President Obama doesn't want to totally scrap the existing agreement! You know, the one that was completed 41 months ago, is worth tens of billions of dollars to the struggling US economy, and is about to get lapped by Korean FTAs with American rivals in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the EU. Sweet!
"He wanted us to give him a list of what our other concerns were," Representative Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat, told Reuters after he and eight other lawmakers met with Obama.
Obama said he "is willing to go over that list and see which ones they agree with, and the ones that they do (agree with) they'll try (to pursue) when they continue the negotiations with the Koreans," the Maine Democrat said.
But Michaud, who is chairman of the House of Representatives Trade Working Group, said also Obama made clear finalizing the trade deal was a priority and "he definitely does not want to start from scratch" to get that done....
In all seriousness, what the @&*$ is going on here? You may recall that Michaud's House Trade Working Group ironically works to thwart trade at every turn, and that its members, along with the professional protectionists over at Public Citizen and the AFL-CIO, are the champions of the also-ironically-named Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act (H.R. 3012), which, among other nasty things, demands the complete renegotiation of all existing and pending US free trade agreements according to a veritable wishlist of trade-inhibiting and agreement-killing criteria. Thus, pretty much anything that this group has asked President Obama to include in any future KORUS discussions is going to require far more fundamental changes to the FTA than a few "tweaks" on automobiles and beef market access.
Only one problem: the Koreans have repeatedly said that, while they're open to a side letter or two in order to advance the FTA, the agreement itself can't be touched:
South Korea conceded on Thursday some changes may be needed to the pact but said any revisions would be limited.And Choi's not being an obstinate jerk here; he has plenty of good reasons to refuse any textual changes to the FTA. First, there's the principle of the matter: the agreement has been completed and signed for well over three years, and, as the Washington Post's depressed editorial board put it, a deal's a deal. Second, there's the politics: according to the Korean National Assembly's research team, any changes to the agreement's text would require completely restarting the FTA's (not-yet-completed) ratification process. And considering the fact that the last time the KORUS FTA began that down that ratification road, the national opposition party held a "violent, 12-day seige of South Korea's parliament," it's pretty easy to see why Choi and his colleagues don't want to relive that fun.
"It is not full-fledged negotiations. What is inevitable is we need negotiations on a very limited scale to give and take what each side needs," South Korea's deputy minister for trade, Choi Seok-young, said in Seoul.
The United States wants a slower phase-out of tariffs on South Korean cars and U.S. industry fuel economy and emissions standards to be automatically recognized in South Korea.
Choi said any change to the tariff phase-out schedule will have to involve changes to the text itself and is therefore unacceptable as a matter of principle. But he left open the possibility for discussions.
So where does that leave us with President Obama's big meeting yesterday with the House (Anti)Trade Working Group (instead of, you know, the powerful House and Senate committee chairmen who are griping about beef and autos)? Well, I see only two options: (1) Obama's playing rope-a-dope here (i.e., he plans to use this meeting as proof that he took their concerns into account before ditching them, or shoving them into an innocuous side-letter, and submitting the agreement to Congress as-is); or (2) he's going to cave to the group's demands and add them to his laundry-list of renegotiation points, thus further cementing KORUS' untimely demise (and the President's reputation as a politically-motivated trade policy wimp).
I don't know about you, but after last week, I'm leaning towards door #2.