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Free Trade Agreements and the Future of U.S.-Korean Trade Relations
Published May 25, 2011
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During the past decade, the United States and Korea have pursued free trade agreements (FTAs) with a number of bilateral trading partners. For the United States, the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) FTA is by far the most significant in economic and political terms. For Korea, the KORUS FTA is matched, at least in com- mercial terms, by the recently concluded Korea-European Union (KOREU) FTA. Going forward, Korea will likely continue to pursue additional FTAs with its major trading partners, while the United States seems likely to refrain from new bilateral arrangements for at least the near term as Congress and the Barack Obama administration struggle to advance implementing legislation for pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and Korea signed in 2006 and 2007.

U.S. and Korean firms will soon have to adapt to the diverse export and in- vestment opportunities created by these newly minted FTAs. The main open question is whether the agent of change will be (1) the KORUS FTA, (2) the KOREU FTA in combination with other Korean FTAs with partners in Asia, or (3) some combination of the two. This short paper examines the implications of these evolving trading arrangements on U.S.-Korea bilateral trade relations. It is organized in three sections: the first section addresses whither the KORUS FTA and why the U.S. legislative logjam may be broken in 2010. The second section examines competitive regionalism and the impact of the KOREU FTA on U.S.-Korea trade. The final section explores two alternative scenarios for the future course of U.S.-Korean trade relations, depending on whether the KORUS FTA is ratified.

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