South Korea, U.S. fail to reach agreement on possible revision to FTA deal
South Korean and U.S. officials failed to agree on Tuesday on how to move forward on discussions over their five-year-old free trade agreement that Washington is seeking to change to help cut its trade deficit with Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Reuters in April, had branded the bilateral trade agreement with South Korea a “horrible deal” and indicated he would renegotiate or terminate the accord.
Last month, Washington issued a request to convene a special session of the Joint Committee under the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement to negotiate amendments to the trade pact.
South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and his American counterpart U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer held the meeting via a video conference earlier on Tuesday.
“We have found the two sides have different views on the free trade agreement and have not reached any agreement,” Kim told a news conference after the meeting.
Kim said Seoul had stressed that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea was not the result of the bilateral trade deal and proposed a joint study to examine the effects of the agreement.
The trade minister said the U.S. side had not brought up the possibility of terminating the trade pact during the talks, adding, South Korea would wait for the U.S. review of Tuesday’s discussions and its proposals.
Lighthizer said in July the U.S. trade deficit in goods with South Korea had doubled to $27.6 billion last year from $13.2 billion in 2011.
The United States has been keen to address trade imbalances with South Korea, particularly for its automakers, since President Trump pointed out the imbalance in auto trade.
In 2016, South Korea’s car exports to the United States stood at $16.2 billion, while its imports of U.S. cars were $1.74 billion, a trade ministry official said based on data from the Korea Trade International Association.
Seoul maintains that the deal has been mutually beneficial, and said last month that the joint committee meeting did not necessarily mean that South Korea would renegotiate terms.
South Korea has also said it first needs to be established whether the U.S. deficit is a result of other structural issues in U.S. industries.
The bilateral accord was initially negotiated during the Republican administration of President George W. Bush in 2007, but that version was scrapped and renegotiated by President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration three years later.