After years of delay, the United States last week approved three free trade agreements, including a landmark accord with South Korea. Behind the fanfare that accompanied their passage, however, lies a stark reality: Washington is failing to demonstrate leadership in expanding international trade. This failure threatens to undermine not only America's economic ambitions but also its aim of preserving strategic influence, especially in Asia.
With the exception of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, America has signed not a single trade pact since 2007. Two other agreements signed during the George W. Bush administration, with Panama and Colombia, languished in Washington for four and five years, respectively, before being ratified last week. All of them could have been approved years ago; renegotiations with the Koreans to secure concessions on automobile exports yielded little substantive change.