U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak failed to agree (FT) on a much-anticipated free-trade agreement, a setback to both Obama's pledge to increase exports and the G20's goal of liberalizing trade. The talks are due to resume after the G20 summit in Seoul, but Obama stressed he wanted the deal completed within weeks not months. The delay adds to doubts about his ability to finalize trade negotiations that have languished since he was elected. The stall is also a blow to Obama's efforts to repair frayed ties with the U.S. business community, which has criticized the government for allowing the United States to fall behind other nations' trade deals (NYT) with South Korea since former president George W. Bush first negotiated the U.S. pact. Disagreements over concessions to U.S. and Korean automakers were a major sticking point (Reuters). U.S. opponents of the pact wanted a slower phase-out of tariffs on South Korean-made cars and the removal of Korean safety and mileage standards that prevent U.S. cars' entry into the Korean market. The United States also wanted South Korea to drop restrictions on beef imports (Bloomberg) from older cattle.
In the Financial Times, Alan Beattie says the Obama administration's weakness on trade policy stems from "U.S. negotiators [who] operate with small but vocal lobbies peering over their shoulders. Moreover, the new Congress' views on trade are unusually and unhelpfully uncertain."
In response to a question by the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman about why U.S. markets seemed filled with one-way imports (ABCNews) of Hyundais, LG phones, and Samsung televisions, Lee said, "When you look at a cellphone made by the LG, the core technology and the goods that are used by these LG companies to build one single cellphone, most of them are imported goods or parts. And many of them come from the United States."