An April 12 article in the Washington Post poses a timely question concerning one of our longtime friends: “In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes?”
At the center of this challenging question lies a free trade agreement that Washington and Seoul signed almost three years ago, back in June 2007. The agreement, commonly known as the KORUS FTA, has been characterized as “strong and balanced” and as “an agreement for the 21st century.”
Unfortunately, the final step for the agreement has been stymied by U.S. politics. Bowing to domestic labor union pressure, President Obama has not moved the pact forward for Congressional ratification.
It would be easy to dismiss the hesitation we’re seeing in the Obama Administration over the trade deal with South Korea as just another chapter in the ongoing debate between free traders and protectionists. After all, the usual suspects are raising all the protectionist arguments.
Yet this FTA is about much more than trade and investment. South Korea has successfully transformed itself from a country devastated by war into one of Asia’s most vibrant market-oriented democracies. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, South Korea now ranks as the word’s 31st freest economy, jumping 9 places in the last year. In addition, the country has shown itself to be a willing partner of the U.S. in endeavors around the world. As the Post article points out, South Korea is willing “to cooperate with the United States in Haiti, Afghanistan and beyond. Would the United States really allow narrow-interest politics to limit such an opportunity?”
2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, a conflict in which America and South Korea fought together in defense of freedom and democracy. There could be no more appropriate time to seal a trade deal that will foster a future of lasting alliance for the two nations.