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US trade representative heralds renegotiation of Korea trade deal

WASHINGTON -- US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday that a renegotiation is in order for trade agreements that lead to growing trade deficits, a remark indicative of his stance on the US free trade deal with South Korea.

"We are looking at all of our trade agreements to determine if they are working to our benefit," he told a forum here. "The basic notion in a free trade agreement is that one grants preferential treatment to a trading partner in return for an approximately equal amount of preferential treatment in their market."

Lighthizer stopped short of naming specific countries, but added the purpose of those deals is to increase efficiency and create wealth.

"It is reasonable to ask after a period of time whether what we received and what we paid were roughly equivalent. One measure of that is changing trade deficits," he said.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. (AFP-Yonhap)
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. (AFP-Yonhap)

The US has called for a renegotiation of the South Korea-US free trade agreement, known as KORUS, over its growing deficit in goods trade with the Asian ally.

US President Donald Trump even considered terminating the deal.

"Where the numbers and other factors indicate a disequilibrium, one should renegotiate," Lighthizer said.

At Washington's request, South Korea and the US kicked off talks last month to consider amendments to the five-year-old deal. The meeting reportedly ended in an impasse with no specific plans for re-engagement.

Seoul insists the trade pact has been mutually beneficial because the US has posted a surplus in services trade. According to South Korean government data, the country's surplus in goods trade with the US reached $23.3 billion last year, up from $11.6 billion in 2011. But in services trade, South Korea posted a deficit of $14.09 billion last year, up from $10.97 billion in 2011, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

"We had an election. No one really ran on maintaining the status quo in trade," Lighthizer said. "President Trump won. We have a different philosophy, and there will be change." (Yonhap)
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