The U.S. government has had a long and convoluted approach to the issue of bilateral or regional trade agreements involving East Asian countries. This paper focuses on three key aspects of this history: the intellectual battle between global and bilateral or regional approaches to trade agreements, the relationship of trade policy to U.S. security policy, and the rising importance of trade in services.
Fundamentally, American economic policy toward East Asia is rooted in the strategic involvement of the United States in the region, which leads to a preference for trans-Pacific trade agreements rather than the intra-Asian alternative. But the U.S. approach to regional trade issues was complicated over the years due to the strong belief among economists and government officials that the global approach to trade and investment issues is more efficient than a bilateral or regional approach. Nonetheless, the rising importance of international trade and investment in service industries has helped push the U.S. government away from its commitment to the global approach since the World Trade Organization has made relatively little progress yet on covering these issues. This chapter explores the evolution of American policy in the context of these factors.