U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday he would meet with his advisers next week to weigh a possible withdrawal from the U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea.
Trump made the remark to journalists during a trip to hurricane-hit Houston, Reuters said, shortly after the move was reported by the Washington Post.
Citing multiple sources close to the process, the paper said Trump has instructed advisers to prepare for the withdrawal, but several White House officials are trying to stop him.
"While it is still possible Trump could decide to stay in the agreement in order to renegotiate its terms, the internal preparations for terminating the deal are far along and the formal withdrawal process could begin as soon as this coming week," the Post quoted the sources as saying on the condition of anonymity.
The Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, known as KORUS, took effect in 2012. Last month, the two sides held their first meeting to discuss possible amendments to the deal at Washington's request.
Trump has slammed the trade agreement, calling it a "horrible" deal that has resulted in a large U.S. trade deficit with South Korea.
But Seoul insists the agreement has benefited both sides, and has called for a close analysis of its impact on the two economies.
The officials against the withdrawal include Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the report said.
They do not want to isolate South Korea at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, it said.
Should Trump decide to withdraw from the deal, which he can do unilaterally despite Congress' approval of the agreement, the FTA would effectively be terminated after six months, in March next year.
A White House spokeswoman told the Post that "discussions are ongoing, but we have no announcements at this time."
South Korea's surplus in goods trade with the U.S. reached US$23.3 billion last year, up from $11.6 billion in 2011, according to South Korean government data.
But in services trade, South Korea saw a deficit of $14.09 billion last year, up from $10.97 billion in 2011, the Korea International Trade Association said.
Wendy Cutler, the chief U.S. negotiator for the KORUS FTA, agreed with Seoul's argument that the deal has benefited both sides, and the U.S. deficit was caused by macroeconomic factors.
"KORUS has been the economic cornerstone of a strong U.S.-Korea alliance. While not perfect, it has delivered economic benefits to both sides and has made us closer partners," she wrote in a contribution to The Hill earlier this week. "It's in our mutual interest to find a path forward that works for both sides, particularly in light of the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula." (Yonhap)