It was 2 a.m. when Tami Overby's phone rang. On the other end, an Obama administration official wanted Overby to wake up her boss, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue. They needed his network.U.S. and South Korean negotiators were in Seoul last November, racing to finish a trade deal that both sides hoped President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak would be able to announce later that day at the G-20 summit. They were close, but was it good enough? In the wee hours of the night from the five-star Hyatt Seoul, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman were burning up the phone lines to get a reading from business officials, labor bosses, and congressional staffers.With U.S. access to the South Korean auto market posing the biggest obstacle to an agreement, USTR officials wanted Ford Motor President Alan Mulally to sign off on a deal. And they wanted Donohue to sell him on it, according to sources familiar with the conversation.So Overby, president of the chamber's U.S.-Korea Business Council, woke Donohue and asked him to make the call. After a 15-minute conversation between the two men, Donohue told USTR officials that Mulally still wasn't satisfied and wanted the Koreans to open up more of their car market.No deal. ...Far outside the public eye, the business community essentially acted as a shadow party to the bilateral talks. Industry lobbyists worked both governments for information, pushed to keep the talks alive, and offered solutions to clear roadblocks and find a middle ground. The industry groups didn't all have the same agendas--some considered the Colombia pact a must-have priority, while others worried that fights over Colombia and Panama could jeopardize passage of the far bigger deal with Korea. But the business groups formed a united front in pushing for all three deals simultaneously and supporting assistance to displaced workers. Almost all of the maneuvering took place in secret, and few of the details ever spilled into the public. This is part of the story of what happened.
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