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By Philippe Legrain ADD COMMENTS

The US’s most significant "free-trade agreement" since NAFTA, the first with an Asian country, with "state-of-the-art" chapters and "unique" provisions – the embattled Bush administration was wheeling out the superlatives to describe the bilateral trade deal clinched with South Korea this morning.

It was a last-minute effort too, since it was agreed just in time for President Bush to give Congress the required 90-day notice of his
intention to enter into a free-trade agreement before his fast-track
authority expires.

The potential benefits – $20bn in extra trade – seem impressive, but
free trade it certainly isn’t.

Giving American carmakers privileged
access to Korea’s notoriously closed market is not the same thing as
opening it up to global competition – a boon for Detroit, perhaps, less
so for Korean drivers.

Nor will the deal do much to lower food prices, which is not surprising considering agriculture is the main blockage in the WTO’s Doha Round.

And even this limited deal will face huge opposition in the US Congress, where Democrats with a protectionist bent hold sway, as well as in South Korea’s National Assembly, which took three years to approve a trade deal with Chile. A huge breakthrough for free trade this certainly isn’t.

Posted 02 Apr 2007 in Blog

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