SEOUL — President Obama’s hopes of emerging from his Asia trip with the twin victories of a free trade agreement with South Korea and a unified approach to spurring global economic growth ran into resistance on all fronts yesterday, putting Obama at odds with his key allies and largest trading partners.
The most concrete trophy expected to emerge from the trip eluded his grasp: a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea, first negotiated by the Bush administration and then reopened by Obama, to have greater protections for US workers.
And as officials frenetically tried to paper over differences among the Group of 20 members with a vaguely worded communiqué to be issued today, there was no way to avoid discussion of the fundamental differences of economic strategy. After five largely harmonious meetings in the past two years to deal with the most severe downturn since the Depression, major disputes broke out between Washington and China, Britain, Germany, and Brazil.
Each rejected core elements of Obama’s strategy of stimulating growth before focusing on deficit reduction. Several major nations continued to accuse the Federal Reserve of deliberately devaluing the dollar last week in an effort to put the costs of America’s competitive troubles on trading partners, rather than taking politically tough measures to rein in spending at home.
The result was that Obama repeatedly found himself on the defensive. He and the South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak, had vowed to complete the trade pact by the time they met here; while Obama insisted that it would be resolved “in a matter of weeks,’’ without the pressure of a summit meeting it was unclear how the hurdles on nontariff barriers to US cars and beef would be resolved.
US, South Korea trade accord not a done deal - The Boston Globe