U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to seek a new trade deal with South Korea in his first summit talks with President Moon Jae-in on Friday, blaming the current free trade deal between the two countries for enlarging American deficits.
Trade was one of the two biggest topics at the talks, along with North Korea. Trump said the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement has been "rough" for the U.S. and called it "not exactly a great deal."
"We are renegotiating a trade deal right now as we speak with the South Koreans and hopefully it will be an equitable deal, it will be a fair deal to both parties. It's been a rough deal for the United States, but I think that it will be much different and will be good for both parties," he told reporters at the start of the one-on-one talks with Moon.
"What many people don't know is that South Korea is a major trading partner with the United States, and we want something that is going to be good for the American worker, and I think that we will be able to do that today, and I think we'll be able to do many other things," he said.
The free trade pact, which has been in effect since 2012, has long been considered an economic alliance between the two sides.
In their joint statement after the summit, the two countries announced the leaders committed to fostering expanded and balanced trade while creating reciprocal benefits and fair treatment between the two countries.
"In that regard, the two sides further committed to foster a truly fair and level playing field, including working together to reduce the global overcapacity of such basic materials as steel, as well as non-tariff barriers to trade."
"Both sides pledged to work together, as part of the process of the Commercial Dialogue, to promote investment, support entrepreneurs, and facilitate cooperation between the United States and the ROK (Republic of Korea) to boost economic growth and job creation in both countries."
During a joint press availability after the talks, Trump said that U.S. trade deficit with the South has "increased by more than $11 billion" between 2011 when the deal was signed and 2016.
Trump said the two countries are working to create "a fair and reciprocal economic relationship."
"We will do more to remove barriers to reciprocal trade and market access. We talked last night and today about some tough trade issues like autos and steel and I'm encouraged by President Moon's assurances that he will work to create a level playing field so that American workers and businesses and especially automakers can have a fair shake at dealing with South Korea," Trump said.
"South Korean companies sell cars in America. American companies should have that same exact privilege on a reciprocal basis. In addition, I've called on South Korea to stop enabling the export of dumped steel. These would be important steps forward in our trading relationship, very important steps," he said.
A new trade deal will be "great for South Korea and great for the United States," he said.
Apparently trying to appease the U.S. before the summit, a group of 52 South Korean companies announced a plan to jointly invest US$12.8 billion in the United States over the next five years.
Seoul also said it will soon begin importing shale gas from the United States, along with a US$25 billion deal to import liquefied natural gas from an Alaska-based U.S. energy firm.
Trump said he was gratified to learn about new investments South Korean companies are making. He also welcomed the natural gas export deal, and expressed thanks to the South for buying military hardware from the U.S., such as Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets.
During last year's campaign, Trump blamed free trade deals for being a key cause of job losses and other American economic problems in an attempt to woo voters struggling with economic difficulties. He denounced the FTA with South Korea a "job killing" deal and a "disaster."
One of the first things he did upon inauguration was to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
"The United States has many, many trade deficits with many countries and we cannot allow that. We will start with South Korea right now," Trump said at the start of an expanded summit between the two countries.
Trump also called for "fair" sharing of the cost of American military presence in the South.
"We are working together to ensure fair burden-sharing in support of the United States military presence in South Korea. Burden-sharing is a very important factor, a factor that's becoming more and more prevalent, certainly in this administration," he said.
South Korea currently pays about half the costs, about US$900 million a year, to help finance the stationing of some 28,500 American troops in the country. U.S. officials acknowledge that it would cost more to keep those troops stationed in the U.S. than it does in Korea.
Earlier this week, a senior White House official also said during a briefing to preview the summit that the South is a "model ally" in terms of burden sharing, spending about 2.7 percent of its gross domestic product. The official also said the U.S. "shouldn't view South Korea as somehow laggard on that front." (Yonhap)