US and South Korea agree to renegotiate ‘job killer’ free trade pact

Trade friction comes as the military allies try to find ways to increase strategic cooperation in response to an increasingly aggressive North Korea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 11:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 October, 2017, 9:13pm

The United States and South Korea effectively agreed Wednesday to renegotiate a five-year-old bilateral free trade agreement after US President Donald Trump’s administration blamed the deal for widening the US trade deficit.

The agreement was reached during talks in Washington between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and South Korean trade minister Kim Hyun-chong, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The two countries shared an understanding of the need to amend the free trade deal to further strengthen the mutual benefits, the ministry said in a statement.

Trump has repeatedly slammed the bilateral trade deal, calling it a “job killer” for the United States. Seoul had not been willing to renegotiate the agreement due to the benefits it says the deal has produced.

Watch: Trump raises South Korea trade concerns

“I now look forward to intensified engagement with Korea in an expeditious manner to resolve outstanding implementation issues as well as to engage soon on amendments that will lead to fair, reciprocal trade,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

The US-South Korean free trade agreement, which went into force in March 2012, removed tariffs on over 90 per cent of the items traded between the two countries, including automobiles.

Since the trade agreement went into effect, the US goods trade deficit with South Korea more than doubled to US$27.6 billion last year. But through July 2017, the bilateral trade deficit fell to US$13.1 billion from US$18.8 billion during the same period of 2016, according to US Census Bureau data.

Lighthizer is also focused on revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Bloomberg