Three New Bilateral Trade Agreements — What’s the Real Impact? — Economic or Political?

Congress just passed the bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. This is clearly a rare bipartisan act and a success for President Obama. But what is the real significance of these new free-trade agreements? Is it economic (read American jobs) or political?
It seems to me that in the context of interlocking issues of globalization and global commerce these agreements are not particularly important. It appears to many that the impact will be small in terms of new U.S. jobs.
It’s interesting that these agreements were passed by Congress while it was voting favorably for the restrictive currency legislation aimed at China.  Perhaps the vote for the protectionist legislation provided cover for those voting for the free-trade agreements.
Nevertheless, the passage of the bilaterals is a real political achievement for President Obama.  It may have significant and beneficial overtones for U.S. foreign policy.
Hopefully, the passage of this legislation will lead to a more robust American trade policy and leadership in global trade relations generally. The Congress should start by renewing the fast track authority (“Trade Promotion Authority”) for the President. This would help make the U.S. look more serious in its trade negotiations.

About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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