The next US Congress, led by Democrats, will bring a dramatic policy shift on international trade policy toward protectionism, according to the predictions of a former congressional assistant.

Christopher Colford, a consultant for public affairs, said the refusal by the House to normalize trade relations with Vietnam is a clear sign of such a shift.

“Watch what happens to the Vietnam pact, because that will foreshadow what may happen with the fate of further trade agreements next in line, the free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and Peru and US and Colombia, and beyond that further down the timeline is the hope for an eventual US-South Korea FTA,” he said in a lecture sponsored by the South Korean Embassy.

Seoul and Washington have been negotiating an FTA they hope to conclude by early next year. The goal is to get congressional endorsement before the US Trade Promotion Authority expires in July.

The talks so far have focused on less controversial issues, leaving tough decisions on agricultural market opening and the automotive sector to future discussions.

Just days after the Democrats won the mid-term elections on Nov. 7, the House rejected a bill on establishing normal trade ties with Vietnam as US President George W. Bush was set to visit Hanoi for an annual regional summit.

The vote was 228 to 161 on giving Vietnam what is called permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status, falling short of the two-thirds majority required to pass the bill.

Colford said that with the turnover to the Democrats, even the Republicans “felt liberated” to vote against the PNTR rather than stay loyal to the president.

“Now you find the mainstream of the Democratic Party very skeptical of free trade, and a large majority of the Republican Party are very skeptical of free trade,” he said.

“This is perhaps a dangerous sign for those who anticipate the future and free trade.” (Yonhap/Asia Pulse)