Three new free trade agreements plant seeds for nation’s future

After four years of delay, Congress has ratified free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Each of the treaties facilitates efficient allocation of resources, including the profit drives of individuals. Specific dimensions make each distinctive, and promising in political as well as economic terms.

Congressional approval was timed to coincide with the visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. He faces no shortage of challenges and conflicts at home, not least the always dangerous and recently lethal long-term military standoff with North Korea. In stark strategic terms, this treaty will help him bolster influence at home as well as abroad.

The agreements generated bipartisan support in Congress. Normally warring Democrats and Republicans have found temporary consensus on international trade. That is no small accomplishment when U.S. unemployment remains at the high level of approximately 9 percent and the occupant of the White House has his principal political base in the left wing of the Democratic Party, where protectionist sentiment runs strong.

Colombia for years has been plagued by the FARC, an enormous drug-based criminal enterprise. For a time, expanding Pentagon involvement encouraged eerie parallels with American military entrapment in Vietnam in the early 1960s. However, the FARC is now contained. The trade accord can help that process.

Panama has a distinctive history as a country literally carved out by Theodore Roosevelt’s administration to construct the Panama Canal. In consequence, political passions both there and here traditionally run strong when addressing our sometimes-strained relations. Republican presidential contender Ronald Reagan successfully denounced President Jimmy Carter’s treaty ceding canal control to people there. The trade accord can mitigate tensions in the United States as well as Panama.

Concerning South Korea, the largest bilateral agreement in history ends tariffs on more than 90 percent of trade categories between our two nations. As with Colombia and Panama, historical context is important.

South Korea reflects other Asian economies in abandoning previous protectionism designed to shelter promising but weak domestic enterprises. Following the Korean War, the nation was among the poorest in the world, but today ranks among the richest and most productive economies. The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy has predicted that exports under the new agreement will expand initially by 12 percent annually, and grow more in future years.

American economic opportunities, in particular related to agriculture and automobiles, are featured in specific aspects of the agreement. Seoul would gradually end the beef tariff, currently set at 40 percent, and resume imports from the U.S., which were halted in 2003 during fears about foot-and-mouth disease. Korean limits based on vehicle engine size and capacity would be cut.

South Korea’s economic development and democratic political evolution are a direct testimony to the wisdom of American foreign policies over many years. Harry Truman demonstrated great courage in 1950 in immediately intervening in the Korean War. Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated great effectiveness in ending that war, then leading a thorough reconstruction of South Korea.

The three free trade agreements strengthen relations among the nations directly involved and provide promising precedent for others, including Islamic populations now experiencing political revolutions.

Scripps Howard News Service contributor Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

Op Edsop-edOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Crab fisherman Skip Ward of Marysville casts his crab net out off a pier near Fort Point. (Craig Lee/Special to The	Examiner)
San Francisco came back to life, and we captured it all

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, the bestselling authors… Continue reading

Revelers at Madrone Art Bar in the early hours of June 15, 2021 (Courtesy Power Quevedo).
No social distancing at Motown-themed dance party

‘I don’t care how anyone feels, I just want to dance!’

<em>The San Francisco Peace Pagoda stands tall in between Japan Center East and West malls.</em>
 (Ida Mojadad/The Examiner)
Patrons return to the Japantown mall

‘We’re so happy—it’s really hard to make a profit’

Scenes from an SFO-bound BART train on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the day California fully reopened for business after the COVID pandemic. (Al Saracevic/SF Examiner)
SF reopens: BART riders dreading the end of the pandemic

‘I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be packed like sardines’

Micael Butial stands as he holds an umbrella that he painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate” at a rally held to show support for Asian and Pacific Islanders communities, Sunday, March 21, 2021 in San Francisco. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Inside the California organization tracking anti-Asian hate incidents

By Mallika Seshadri CalMatters Richard Lim was walking along a quiet sidewalk… Continue reading

Most Read