The Cable

Trump Fixates on Trade in Meetings With South Korea’s President

Moon sticks to stressing the importance of the bilateral relationship.

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In the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and the Rose Garden, U.S. President Donald Trump had a message for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and for the American public: the trade deal between the United States and South Korea is unfair and is going to be renegotiated.

“We are re-negotiating a trade deal right now as we speak,” Trump said in front of the press pool in the Oval Office. “It’s been a rough deal for the United States,” he said, but the new one will “be much different. It’ll be good for both parties.”

After Moon spoke, expressing his hope that the United States and South Korea could develop a more robust partnership, Trump added that many people don’t know that South Korea is a major U.S. trading partner.

South Korea was not a signatory on the Trans Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal among 12 nations negotiated by President Barack Obama and subsequently abandoned by Trump. But there was talk that Seoul could have joined a part of a more expansive pact.

Seoul and Washington have an existing trade deal, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on March 15, 2012. South Korea is America’s sixth largest goods trading partner.

In a subsequent bilateral meeting between the U.S. and South Korean delegations in the Cabinet Room, Trump said, “the United States suffered through massive trade deficits,” but added that he was pleased that South Koreans are buying “many F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed, and they’re buying other military equipment at a level that they’ve never reached before. So that’s good.”

Trump said that “things like that” will reduce the U.S. trade deficit.

Finally, in the Rose Garden, Trump once again spoke to the need to renegotiate the trade deal with South Korea.

“We’re also working to create a fair and reciprocal economic relationship,” Trump said.

The current agreement is “not exactly a great deal,” be added, because the trade deficit with South Korea increased by 11 billion dollars since it was signed. Trump stressed the steel and auto manufacturing industries as two areas in particular where he expects Moon “to create a level playing field.”

Moon did not mention trade in his Rose Garden remarks, though he did say he looked forward to broadening the bilateral relationship through concrete action. He also mentioned using both sanctions and dialogue “in a phased and comprehensive approach” with North Korea.

Neither president took questions.

FP’s David Francis contributed to this piece.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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