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US congressmen urge Trump against ‘drastic’ changes to FTA

Following Seoul and Washington’s decision to begin talks on possibly modifying certain aspects of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, US congressmen appeared unanimous that the US president should avoid making any drastic amendments that would jeopardize bilateral relations, though the trade deal has its flaws.

According to the US House of Representatives on Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee launched a hearing on “Opportunities to expand US trade relationships in the Asia-Pacific region,” on Thursday (Korea time) at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington. During the hearing, US congressmen emphasized the free trade agreement as a crucial component of both economies, while highlighting concerns regarding Trump’s unpredictable policy decisions on international trade. 

The House Ways and Means Committee is a permanent committee of the US House of Representatives that makes recommendations to the House on revenue-related legislation, including on taxation, customs duties and international trade agreements.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

“We have trade agreements with only three countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Korea, Australia and Singapore. We must expand our presence,” said Dave Reichert, chairman of the Subcommittee on Trade, during the hearing.

“I am convinced that Korus, our trade agreement with Korea, has been a great success for both the United States and Korea,” Reichert continued. “Korus has been in place only five years and some of the tariff reductions are still being phased in and evaluated, especially for sensitive agricultural products. So we can expect even greater gains in the future.”

“At the same time, Korea’s implementation of certain portions of the agreement have been very disappointing, and I know some tough conversations are ongoing to address these problems,” he added. “The best way to resolve these issues and instill confidence in both countries about the future of the agreement is to use the committee structure it’s set up under Korus. That structure has helped us put an end to several disputes already. But Korea needs to do much more.”

On Oct. 4, Seoul’s top trade negotiator Kim Hyun-chong met with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for the second session of the Korus joint committee in Washington. The two sides formally announced they had their agreement to begin the process of amending sections of the deal as per the Trump administration’s move to combat its deepening trade deficit.

Korea’s Trade Ministry previously announced upcoming trade renegotiation talks are expected to focus on the automobile and steel industries.

According to the Office of the US Trade Representative, the US trade deficit in goods with Korea more than doubled, rising from $13.2 billion to $27.6 billion, and the US deficit in the auto sector alone is $24 billion -- an increase of 77 percent since 2011 -- and accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total goods deficit.

“The president has also threatened to withdraw from the Korean free trade agreement, or Korus. I believe Korus has flaws, we all have flaws,” said Bill Pascrell, a congressman who serves on the Committee on Ways and Means. “It could be improved, it could work better for American companies seeking market access, particularly American auto companies ... however, our relationship with South Korea is critical and (Korea) is a valuable trade partner.”  

“So let’s not do something drastic by blowing up the agreement and creating chaos; that serves no one,” Pascrell added.


By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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