Should Congress fail to pass a free trade agreement with South Korea, it would offend an important ally of the United States in Asia and set back the efforts of negotiators from both countries, David Bohigian, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Commerce Department, said in Atlanta Sept. 6.

“If we back away now, we would be sending the wrong message at the wrong time,” he told a luncheon audience at the World Trade Center Atlanta. “We would be walking away from a staunch ally, walking away would be symbolic and a blow to our presence there and to our negotiating team.”

The agreement with Korea was signed on June 30 after eight formal rounds of negotiations over the course of 10 months. Before being implemented, however, it must be passed by legislative bodies in both the U.S. and Korea.

Mr. Bohigian is assistant secretary for market access and compliance in the department’s International Trade Administration, which is to help create economic opportunity for American workers and businesses by promoting trade and investment.

His visit to Atlanta was part of a multi-state tour during which he is promoting public support for the proposed agreements.

Of the free trade agreements pending with Colombia, Panama, Peru and Korea, he called the Korean agreement “the most significant.” “Korea is the 10th largest global market and the 7th U.S. trading partner,” he said.

Although he emphasized Korea, he also called the pending agreements with the three Latin American countries important. “We can’t turn our backs on Latin America or follow a false light on a different path,” he added.

He predicted that eventually all four agreements would be passed, but not without the support of a bipartisan coalition in keeping with the country’s historical tradition of joining trade agreements with foreign policy objectives.

Mr. Bohigian pointed to the recent visit by Charles Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York who heads the important House Ways and Means Committee, to Latin America and his upcoming participation on another trip to the region with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez as encouraging signs of developing bipartisanship.

On the other hand, he said in an interview with GlobalAtlanta after the lunch that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the Korean agreement “tells you about which way the political winds are blowing.”

“It’s easier to campaign against free trade,” he added, “because of the pain of factory closings and its benefits are harder to define but real incomes in the United States are up $10,000 per person because of trade. Trade is responsible for real job creation.”

He also said that bipartisan support bringing together foreign policy and economic objectives would tie trade and tourism and “go further than just counting container ships.”

The U.S. is well positioned to benefit from a more open global economy, which, he said, can be valued today at $50 trillion and within the next few decades would expand to $100 trillion, “if we make the right choices.”

Mr. Bohigian also said that it would be difficult to negotiate more free trade agreements since the “fast track” trade promotion authority granted to the president by Congress expired at midnight on July 1.

Fast-track authority enables the president to sign trade deals with a single yes-or-no Congressional vote after only limited debate. Other countries are hesitant to negotiate with the U.S. without the fast-track authority in place because they fear the terms will be changed during the legislative process.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
U.S. Commerce Department – David Bohigian, assistant secretary
(Cameron W. Cushman (202) 482-1537)

Information on U.S. Free Trade Agreements

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U.S.-Korea Free Trade Faces Opposition in Both Countries