Trump demands ‘fair shake’ for U.S. automakers in South Korea

on Jul1

President Donald Trump, right, and Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, in the Rose Garden at the White House on Friday. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON — South Korea must give U.S. automakers “a fair shake” to sell more cars there and stop exporting “dumped steel,” President Donald Trump told his counterpart Moon Jae-in during talks at the White House.

After meeting with Moon on Friday, Trump emphasized he’ll press for changes to the current free-trade agreement to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea. He told reporters he was encouraged by “Moon’s assurances that he will work to create a level playing field” for U.S. exporters.

The initial meeting would probably be seen as a success, said Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul. “On the surface it appeared the two presidents had a fairly positive summit without major blunders, but the real work begins now with having to iron out their stark differences and formulate a joint strategy on North Korea and alliance issues, particularly trade,” Kim said.

Moon said he had a “a candid and lengthy conversation” in which Trump “came across as a man of determination.”

The South Korean leader didn’t directly address Trump’s complaints about trade in his remarks at the White House or in his speech. In a statement on the presidential office website, Moon’s presidential policy adviser Jang Ha-sung said the two countries did not agree to a renegotiation of the trade deal, known as KORUS. In his meeting with Trump, Moon emphasized the deal is a reciprocal one, Jang said.

Trade tensions

Trump’s pressure on South Korea on trade comes as the administration is considering whether to take broader action against foreign-made steel. The Commerce Department has been investigating whether imported steel threatens U.S. security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

U.S. automakers’ access to South Korea has been a sore point in trade ties for years. Former President Barack Obama renegotiated the trade deal with South Korea struck by George W. Bush’s administration in part to gain better terms for U.S. automakers. Trump has said that he plans to either renegotiate or scrap KORUS.

The U.S. ran a $27.6 billion trade deficit with South Korea in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. South Korea imported $1.6 billion in U.S. autos while exporting $16.1 billion in autos to the U.S. that year.

As a presidential candidate, Trump slammed the trade pact with South Korea as a “job-killing” deal.

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