One of the more surprising aspects of international trade for newcomers is that treatymaking is not just about economics, but geopolitics as well. This was, after all, one of the rationales behind the TPP—that to secure US relevance in Asia, and a sense of security among US allies, a new political (and economic) footprint, or pivot, was needed. Geostrategy was also mentioned as a key rationale in the stalled TTIP negotiations—the idea that in a post-Marshall Plan/Cold-War era, trade was the only transatlantic “game” in town and progress was needed.

The uproar over reported US plans to leave the US Korea free trade agreement has, however, illustrated another dimension of this geostrategic fact of economic diplomacy. Namely, undoing ratified treaties can also have political drawbacks beyond the economics of tariffs and deficits.  (Though even here, the economics are complex).  In the case of the South Korea trade agreement, one can’t help but wonder about the strategic wisdom of terminating a highly potent symbol of allied interests at the same time North Korea is testing hydrogen bombs across the Demilitarized Zone.  Surely the US Trade Representative is, and is tampering down expectations of a speedy withdrawal.

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