S. Korea rejects US call to revise 'job killer' trade deal

SEOUL • South Korea rejected a United States proposal to revise a five-year-old bilateral trade deal that US President Donald Trump has called a "job killer".

"The US asked for resolution of its trade imbalance, full implementation of the existing FTA (free trade agreement), and modification and amendment of the current deal," South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun Chong told reporters in Seoul after speaking yesterday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer via video conference, followed by talks with US officials in the South Korean capital.

"We told the US that it's necessary to figure out the reasons for the trade imbalance through a joint study to research, analyse and assess the effect of the FTA," Mr Kim said. "From my point of view, there's no agreement regarding negotiations" to revise the deal, he said. The agreement could be terminated if either nation said it wanted to do so.

In June, Mr Trump told South Korean President Moon Jae In that US automakers should have a "fair shake" for better car sales. Mr Kim said last year that the deal was a "slam dunk shot" for the US. South Korea describes the pact as a mutually beneficial deal, basing its argument on a surge in bilateral trade volume. But the US sees it as one of the main reasons for the imbalance.

Mr Trump's push to revise the deal is part of his broader drive to reduce his nation's trade deficits with various nations, such as his pursuit of a full renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The trade issue has emerged just as the US and South Korea need each other's support to fight North Korea's nuclear threat. The deal also helps the US on a strategic level as China's economic and political influence grows in the region.

South Korea is the US' seventh-largest trading partner, while the US is South Korea's second-biggest partner after China. US figures indicate its goods deficit with South Korea was US$27.7 billion (S$37.7 billion) last year.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea rejects US call to revise 'job killer' trade deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe