Following the shocking inability of U.S. and South Korean trade negotiators to reach agreement on changes to a proposed Korea–U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), the biggest question was whether the failure was due to a conscious decision by President Obama or to stunning incompetence.

However, if negotiators had managed to reach an agreement on President Obama’s terms, the long-run results would have been even worse.

If South Korean negotiators had caved in to U.S. demands without receiving any concessions in return, they might have inadvertently undermined the ability of the United States to negotiate bilateral trade deals in the future. Every new pact would inevitably have to be sent back to our trading partners for additional concessions or resolution of outstanding issues, with “Remember KORUS” as the rallying cry.

If U.S. trade negotiators want to maintain their ability to negotiate bilateral agreements, they should quit demanding one-sided concessions from South Korea.