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Trump says ‘horrible’ FTA being ‘renegotiated’

July 15,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One Wednesday en route to France that “renegotiations” have begun between Seoul and Washington on their “horrible” free trade agreement (FTA), White House transcripts revealed Thursday.

Trump’s statement was made public a day after the U.S. Trade Representative Office announced it formally notified South Korea that the United States is calling a special joint committee meeting to “start the process of negotiating to remove barriers to U.S. trade and consider needed amendments to the agreement.”

Jitters had been high in South Korea that the Trump administration might call for a drastic overhaul to the FTA, though the announcement did not directly use the term “renegotiation.”

The Blue House denied there were any talks about renegotiating the deal, though Trump did mention his country’s trade deficit and called the FTA a “not exactly great deal” during a press briefing after a summit with President Moon Jae-in late last month in Washington.

Trump told reporters on the plane Wednesday that the U.S. was “absolutely devastated by bad trade deals” and that the “worst” was with Beijing. Trump quickly moved on to mention Seoul, saying, “We have a bad deal with South Korea. We’re just starting negotiations… we’re losing $40 billion a year with South Korea on trade.”

“It’s a horrible deal. So we’re starting - we started, as of yesterday, renegotiating the deal with South Korea. We have to.”

The Blue House scrambled to ease speculation Friday that President Moon had been hiding the fact that both countries have been discussing the matter, blaming Trump for a bad choice of word.

“President Trump might have used that term because he’s a politician, but it’s not true,” a Blue House official said on background, pointing out that the announcement from the U.S. Trade Representative Office used only the words “amendment” and “modification.”

Opposition parties accused Moon of obscuring the facts about his recent summit with Trump, after which Moon’s aides said a renegotiation of the FTA wasn’t brought up.

Rep. Hong Moon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party accused Moon of lying to the public out of fear that his agreement to redraft the trade deal would undercut his diplomatic record.

Rep. Lee Hyun-jae of the same party said, “Is it that the Blue House can’t read Washington’s real intention, or is it trying to hide it? As a citizen of this nation, it’s just really deplorable.”

Rep. Kim Dong-cheol, floor leader of the People’s Party, said the “diplomatic ignorance” of Moon’s administration has been laid bare. “The [South Korean] government should fully reveal what both countries discussed and begin thoroughly mapping out a counteractive strategy,” he said.

Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea’s former chief negotiator for the FTA, expressed fear that the political backlash against Trump’s remark might strain the South Korea-U.S. alliance, saying “It doesn’t help our friendly relations with Washington if we start misjudging the country for looking down on us.”

BY YOO SEONG-UN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]