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Trump committed to big changes to FTA: USTR

The Office of the United States Trade Representative announced Wednesday that the Trump administration remains committed to amending terms of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, following a joint committee session with Seoul and Washington on Tuesday where the two parties were unable to reach a consensus.

“Ambassador Lighthizer remains focused on improving implementation of KORUS and amending or modifying the agreement to benefit American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” a press statement from the USTR read, adding that the US plans to continue discussions in the coming weeks regarding issues raised during the joint session held in Seoul.

The statement comes after Korea’s chief trade negotiator Kim Hyun-chong announced Seoul and Washington’s trade representatives were unable to reach any form of agreement regarding the US’ request to amend the FTA, citing differing views regarding the effects of the trade deal.

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (Yonhap)
United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (Yonhap)

“I made our position very clear,” Kim said following his 30-minute video conference with Lighthizer on Tuesday, referring to Korea’s claims that the KORUS FTA is mutually beneficially.

“The United States and Korea have an important economic relationship,” Lighthizer said in the press statement. “Unfortunately, too many American workers have not benefited from the agreement. USTR has long pressed the Korean government to address burdensome regulations which often exclude US firms or artificially set prices for American intellectual property. This negotiation offers us an opportunity to resolve these and other barriers.

“Since KORUS entered into effect, US goods exports have decreased while the trade deficit overall with Korea has nearly tripled,” he continued. “American service exports have seen virtually no growth in the past four years. President Trump is committed to substantial improvements in the Korean agreement that address the trade imbalance and ensure that the deal is fully implemented.”

According to Kim, US representatives cited the US’ deepening trade deficit with Korea as one of the biggest cause for concerns with the FTA. The USTR’s press statement cited that from 2011 to 2016, the US trade deficit in goods with Korea more than doubled, rising from $13.2 billion to $27.6 billion.

However, the Korean government remains adamant that the bilateral trade deal is not the cause of the US’ trade deficit and continues to stand firm in its stance that the terms of the agreement should remain unaltered.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, Korea’s trade negotiator said the Seoul government presented its US counterpart with facts and figures that stress the US-Korea goods and services deficit is not the result of the FTA, however, the meeting merely confirmed the two countries’ polar views.

“We were unable to reach any consensus,” he said.

“We are not saying that we are better off not having the FTA at all, I think both sides agree that the nations would be better off having a trade deal,” Kim added. “At no point during the meeting was the term ‘termination’ used.”

By Julie Jackson (