The U.S. could get into the Asian game big-time by moving the stalled U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement. The agreement would drop taxes on 95 percent of goods, boosting U.S. exports to Korea by $10 billion annually. Faced with double-digit unemployment at home, the President could seize on this "jobs program." No such luck. Today, his Commerce Secretary told a Singapore audience that "trade agreements are going to have to wait." The South Korean trade minister responded, "It's been over two years. If it's a responsible government, it should take the next step..." In Asia's very diplomatic parlance, that's a bold rebuke.
South Korea is moving on. The E.U. has opportunistically moved in, signing almost the exact same agreement with South Korea that is sitting on Obama's desk. U.S. goods will soon get taxed more than the same European goods in South Korea. Guess which get bought? With the U.S. sidelined, China is working overtime. It recently signed a free trade pact with the 10-member Southeast Asian block of countries.
This isn't to say that moving trade agreements through the Congress is easy. They always require strong White House leadership. President Obama recently lamented the "debilitating gridlock" in U.S. trade policy. Mr. President, where there's a will, there's a way.
Cross-posted from Rep. Royce's Foreign Intrigue Blog.