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January 26, 2011

Obama's SOTU Confirmed Push for Korea FTA


On the campaign trail, then-Candidate Obama had a strong fair trade message. He promised to promote 21st century trade agreements that include strong, binding environmental and labor provisions. He pledged to limit (pdf) the oversized rights of foreign investors to sue governments directly in international trade tribunals by specifically committing to "exempt any law or regulation written to protect public safety or promote the public interest." In sum, his trade agenda was in line with his overall platform of change –- he called for changing the old trade model.

After relative silence on trade in his first two years in office, President Obama has become a vocal proponent of the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) after updating the deal first reached with Seoul by President George W. Bush. In his State of the Union address yesterday, he identified passing KORUS as a top priority for his administration. On the same day on the Hill, the Ways & Means Committee held a hearing on all three pending trade deals with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

In his renegotiation of KORUS, President Obama did not reign in the expansive rights granted to foreign investors and corporations as he promised. As in past FTAs, KORUS allows investors to directly challenge public interest laws and regulations for compensation before international tribunals, bypassing domestic courts. We cannot let President Obama and Congress take us down the road of the same, failed trade policy of the past.

-- Rachel Ackoff, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program


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