The proposed South Korea Free Trade Agreement has nothing to do with free or fair trade. It’s managed trade as defined in over a thousand pages filled with favors and exceptions for some special interests, while imposing obligations and restrictions on the beleaguered American manufacturing sector. It had been slated for "fast track" passage with the backing of the Obama Administration, establishment Republicans, and multi-national corporate interests. Early February was mentioned as a target for an up or down vote. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), head of the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, even wants "free trade" deals with Korea, Panama, and Colombia to pass together.
Now that's in doubt.
When I recently interviewed Ian Fletcher, Adjunct Fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council about the pending agreement - which will be published shortly in the Jacksonville Florida Observer - he noted that President Obama will "unlikely avoid serious debate on this agreement, and I personally doubt whether it will pass. The public is getting more skeptical of free trade every day. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in September 2010 found 53% of Americans believing free trade agreements hurt the U.S., with only 17% believing them beneficial; the split had been 30% vs. 39% percent in 1999."
Opposition to the Korea deal brings together odd political bedfellows including a majority of Congressional Democrats, Donald Trump, the AFL-CIO, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Another key member of the anti-Korea pact (some have called it "Son of NAFTA"), is iconoclast Congressman Ron Paul. In a letter to his House colleagues he wrote: “This act is a sneaky form of international preemption, undermining the critical checks and balances and freedoms established by the U.S. Constitution’s reservation of many rights to the people or state governments.”
That's red meat for recruiting Tea Party partisans to the barricades. And when they discover that taxpayer dollars would actually flow into NORTH Korea through its Kaesong Industrial Complex - a "free-trade-zone" with South Korea - populists with pitchforks will surely take to the talk show airwaves. The Kaesong Industrial Complex manufactures automobile parts, among other products, which are assembled into South Korean cars sold in the U.S. The agreement allows up to 65 percent of the auto parts to be purchased from North Korea, then shipped to the U.S. duty-free.
The Korea Free Trade pact is a sweetheart deal for those manufacturers seeking low wage workers under B1 and B2 visas - specially trained/skilled workers that some corporations say they cannot find here in the U.S. (yeah, right). It's a sweetheart deal for a few Wall Street bankers who benefit from trade deficits. Washington already has a net negative balance trading with Seoul - 10 years running.
It’s a really sweet deal for some power elites.
Which makes it a populist economic fight worth watching.