Free-trade deals are legal agreements that the World Trade Organization defines as covering “substantially all trade” between countries, including a broad range of goods and, typically, services. They usually take years to negotiate and, in the United States, require the approval of Congress.
Scott Lincicome, the director of general economics at the Cato Institute, said that the Biden administration’s authority to strike such trade pacts was questionable but that it was unlikely that anyone would try to mount a legal challenge to them.
“Everyone in the room knows that this is not kosher, but there’s not really anything anybody can do about it,” Mr. Lincicome said.
Political appetite for striking new free-trade deals has diminished in the United States in recent years, in part because of a perception that such pacts have helped multinational corporations move factories and jobs offshore.
Efforts to strike expansive trade deals with Europe and a group of Asian countries during the Obama administration fizzled, in part because of that political opposition. During the Trump administration, the United States signed a series of limited trade deals with South Korea, Japan and China that were carried out through executive orders, not by congressional approval.
Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the limited deal would mollify the Europeans, and that U.S.-E.U. economic relations were too important “to not allow the Europeans under the tent in some way or another.” But it could escalate complaints from other trading partners, like South Korea, that don’t feel as though their concerns have been taken care of, he said.
South Korea already has a comprehensive free-trade agreement with the United States, but it has other criticisms of the climate law, centering on how the current terms exclude electric vehicles made by Hyundai from receiving tax credits. “Once you make accommodations for one, the pressure grows to make accommodations for others,” he said.