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Korea Free Trade, Here We Come

Atrios calls the Simpson/Bowles deficit reduction recommendations “The Democratic Party Self-Destruction Act.”

No, that would be this:

Aides to President Barack Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea were scrambling early today to reach agreement on a revised free-trade pact that they hoped would show their commitment to expand commerce ahead of the G-20 conference of leading nations.

As Obama and Lee prepared for a face-to-face meeting, negotiators were working furiously to resolve last minute-sticking points concerning South Korean imports of U.S. beef and automobiles.

People monitoring the negotiations say that if the deal is sealed, it will be the result of the direct talks between the two leaders. Obama and Lee have scheduled a joint news conference for today in Seoul. For Obama — who is trying to reframe his presidency around improving the U.S. economy and who has made the doubling of exports a centerpiece of his agenda — walking away without an agreement could prove to be an embarrassment.

According to pollsters, opposing NAFTA-style trade agreements and defending Social Security were the two strongest issues Democrats had in 2010. There were 220 television ads run by Democrats in competitive races in 2010 opposing the outsourcing of jobs and “free trade” agreements, including the hard-won swing districts of Nick Rahall, Scott Owens, Larry Kissell, Leonard Boswell, John Yarmuth, Joe Donnelly and Raul Raul Grijalva.

Additionally, Barbara Boxer’s attacks on Carly Fiorina as a job outsourcer was critical to her victory. Likewise Patty Murray, Harry Reid and Joe Manchin.

According to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, the sticking points right now have to do with a “cars and cows” fix, which forces Korea to take more American cars and beef (an attempt to neutralize opposition from the Michigan delegation and the UAW). But other than that, the deal honors the devastating offshoring policies of NAFTA:

The Korea FTA text contains the extreme investor rights that promote offshoring; the private enforcement of those rights that had led to serial attacks on domestic environmental, health, and other safeguards; a ban on Buy America; limits on financial service regulation ( recall, this is a 2007 pre-crisis text with all of the crazy extreme dereg language of past Bush FTAs) and more of the most damaging NAFTA-style provisions Obama promised to fix.

The trade deal is seen as a sop to Korea so the US can maintain a military presence in the region.  There are over 28,000 US troops still on the South Korean peninsula, and Obama visited them yesterday.  Hillary Clinton has been pushing hard for the agreement, and its ratification is the fondest wish of the Chamber of Commerce. So once again, more middle class jobs would be sacrificed for the sake of militarism and interventionism.

It would be a truly horrific blow to whatever is left of American manufacturing at a time when unemployment is rampant.  But from a political standpoint, fighting for another so-called “free trade” agreement right now has got to represent some kind of death wish for the Democratic party.  I don’t have any other way to explain it.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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