Executive Briefings

As Important as New U.S. Free-Trade Agreements Are, the Back Story Is Much More Interesting

When Congress voted this month to approve long-lingering free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, perhaps no one in Washington was more relieved than Jay L. Eizenstat. As customs affairs director for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative through 2008, Eizenstat spent years negotiating the thorny $10.9bn Korea deal-by far the largest of the three-which had stalled again and again over a thousand picky details. How much of the sugar in a packet of Hershey's instant hot cocoa must be from American growers to qualify as a U.S.-made product? What percentage of the fake leather on a New Balance sneaker has to be manufactured in the U.S. for the whole shoe to be considered American-made? What would it take for Caterpillar earth mover engines to meet noise restrictions in Seoul? "You just sort of get used to it," says Eizenstat, now a lawyer with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, of the endless bickering and arcane jargon of trade negotiations. "It's a discipline that not a lot of people know about."

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When Congress voted this month to approve long-lingering free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, perhaps no one in Washington was more relieved than Jay L. Eizenstat. As customs affairs director for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative through 2008, Eizenstat spent years negotiating the thorny $10.9bn Korea deal-by far the largest of the three-which had stalled again and again over a thousand picky details. How much of the sugar in a packet of Hershey's instant hot cocoa must be from American growers to qualify as a U.S.-made product? What percentage of the fake leather on a New Balance sneaker has to be manufactured in the U.S. for the whole shoe to be considered American-made? What would it take for Caterpillar earth mover engines to meet noise restrictions in Seoul? "You just sort of get used to it," says Eizenstat, now a lawyer with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, of the endless bickering and arcane jargon of trade negotiations. "It's a discipline that not a lot of people know about."

Read Full Article