Will Trade Be a Winner in the New Congress?

In its Sunday editorial, The Washington Post takes an upbeat post-election look at the prospects for stalled trade agreements, especially the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. With the Republicans running the House, the article notes that some key House committee positions — chairman of Ways and Means and chairman of its trade subcommittee — will likely be held by legislators who call themselves free-traders.  There is a note of caution, however, about the role of the new Tea Party members, who may not be as supportive of international trade.  But, the Post notes, former U.S. Trade Representative under President Bush, Rob Portman, handily won the Senate seat in Ohio, which may mean there’s less opposition to trade than commonly thought.

In Seoul, South Korea, today top U.S. and Korean trade negotiators are trying to resolve some differences relating to autos and beef so the negotiations will be complete before President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak meet Thursday at a summit before the G-20 meeting.  The trade pact would be the largest economic agreement since NAFTA and would substantially reduce both tariff and non-tariff barriers on both sides.  Other countries have moved ahead in signing trade agreements with South Korea, most notably the European Union, and the U.S. would be at a considerable advantage if it backs away from its own Korea agreement.

The Washington Post editorial also points out not only the economic but the important geopolitical ties that a U.S.-Korea FTA and other pending FTAs would further:

At stake is not only economic growth, but also the strategic balance in Asia. As China rises, this agreement would help keep the peace by binding two long-time democratic allies closer. Similar arguments apply to stalled agreements with two U.S. allies in Latin America, Colombia and Panama. The finalization and swift congressional approval of all three pacts should be among Mr. Obama’s highest priorities for 2011.

Hear, hear.