Washington has concluded only a few, minor trade treaties since NAFTA,
but it recently finalized a deal with South Korea, the world's 13th
largest economy and America's seventh largest trading partner. It is a
significant pact that could pave the way for further major U.S. trade
agreements. The Korea-U.S. FTA (KORUS) is now in the gunsights of both
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, not to mention House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi. Failure to ratify the agreement would not only be a major
political blow to the U.S.-ROK alliance, but also a signal that the
United States cannot live up to its rhetoric on free trade and globalization.
The United States did more than $2 trillion worth of trade in goods
and services with Asia in 2007, and the Asia Pacific now accounts for
37 percent of global economic output. The U.S. needs to lead in
shaping emerging trade regimes in the region, and the best way to do
that is through broad-spectrum trade and investment agreements. Along
with its leading partners, such as Japan and South Korea, Washington
must elevate gold-standard trade practices to the norm in bilateral
and multilateral agreements. These include transparency, good
governance, best practices, and labor and environmental protections among others.
The issue here is whether the guidelines that have nurtured global
trade for the past 60 years will now embrace the globe's most dynamic
region, or whether substandard and unenforceable trade agreements will become the norm.
The United States can shape the trading future only by further opening
its markets and working with others to promote Asia's liberal economic
The small steps recounted here reflect a nascent shift away from
Washington's business as usual approach to East Asia. In its last
months, the Bush administration is acting on its recognition that
Asia's future is being forged today, in the security, political, and
economic spheres. But these small steps, as welcome as they are, fall
short of the type of enhanced engagement in Asia that we need. America
may have helped keep Asia safe for the past six decades; it now needs
to ensure that a liberal vision of democratic growth, robust security
cooperation, and economic enrichment continues in the coming decades.
Michael R. Auslin is a resident scholar in Asian Studies at the
American Enterprise Institute.