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Report: South Korea officials puzzled by Trump's trade remarks

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: South Korea officials puzzled by Trump's trade remarks
Conservative South Korean civic groups show support for a bilateral trade deal in 2008. The Trump administration has said publicly the KORUS FTA needs to be reviewed but has yet to send official notice to Seoul, according to a local press report. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA

May 12 (UPI) -- South Korea trade officials say they have not received any notice from the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview his administration has informed Seoul of renegotiations for a bilateral free trade deal.

In an interview with The Economist published Thursday, Trump said his administration is seeking renegotiations for trade deals, including NAFTA and the KORUS FTA, the latter a bilateral trade deal with Seoul that went into effect during the Obama administration.

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"In the case of South Korea we have a deal that was made by Hillary Clinton, it's a horrible deal. And that is the five-year anniversary and it's up for renegotiation and we've informed them that we'll negotiate," Trump said.

But in Seoul on Friday, a South Korean trade ministry official told local newspaper Seoul Shinmun the government has not been notified.

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"We have not received any notices from the United States, from any of our channels, regarding the renegotiation policy, or what it is," the official said, adding the statements seemed to be one of several the U.S. president makes to the press before his ideas are put into action.

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The Trump administration has been hinting at a new approach to the FTA with South Korea in recent weeks.

During his state visit to Seoul in April, Vice President Mike Pence told South Korean business executives the administration is seeking "reform" of the KORUS FTA.

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Pence said at the time FTA left "too many barriers to entry, which tilts the playing field against American workers," but did not specify what those barriers were.

A U.S. negotiator of the South Korea FTA has said she has "no idea" what the barriers are.

"And if you asked them [the Koreans], I don't think they would know, either," said Wendy Cutler, according to Forbes.

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On Thursday the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of Trump's pick for top trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer.

Lighthizer is expected to carry out the goals of tackling the U.S. trade deficit, which could include a revision of the five-year trade agreement with Seoul.

The U.S. trade deficit with Korea stood at $27.7 billion in 2016.

Lighthizer had also told lawmakers the United States has a trade problem with China, and is expected to begin reviewing NAFTA.

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