NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 22, 2008

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak used his visit to Washington last week to lift restrictions on U.S. beef exports to Korea.  The only reason America's Democrats now have to oppose the biggest trade deal since NAFTA is old-fashioned pandering to their protectionist union base, says the Wall Street Journal.

Cattle-state senators such as Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have refused to back the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement, known as KORUS, until Seoul lifted its ban on U.S. beef.  Legitimate as the U.S. objection to Korea's beef protectionism was, it was still a terrible reason to block a pact with the world's 13th-largest economy and a key U.S. ally in Asia, says the Journal:

  • The broad-ranging KORUS will benefit a wide range of agricultural, manufacturing and services companies.
  • All told, it could boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $10 billion to $12 billion annually.

Lee is so eager to sign this deal that he's standing up to his country's own powerful agricultural lobby:

  • Indeed, the Koreans have made large concessions in every sector covered by KORUS.
  • Lee's predecessor agreed to a renegotiation of the pact to meet Democratic demands on environmental and labor standards.

Yet U.S. Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have already made clear that nothing is good enough.  They won't stare down their own special interests, especially union leaders who have lately been flexing their antitrade muscles to oppose deals like KORUS and a free-trade pact with Colombia.  Supposed concerns about the openness of Korea's auto market are the latest excuse, even though the FTA throws that market wide open.

Source: Editorial, "Where's the Beef?" Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2008.

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