August 22, 2017 / 3:51 AM / 2 years ago

South Korea, U.S. at odds over next steps on free trade deal revisions

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean and U.S. officials failed to agree on Tuesday on how to move forward on discussions over their five-year-old free trade agreement that Washington is seeking to change to help cut its trade deficit with Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks at a news conference prior to the inaugural round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

A one-day video-conference between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and the trade pact’s joint steering committee ended without a decision on the next steps for possible revisions.

“We have found the two sides have different views on the free trade agreement and have not reached any agreement,” Kim told a news conference after the meeting.

A USTR spokeswoman said proposals were exchanged and conversations on the topic will continue.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters in April that the agreement known as KORUS was a “horrible deal” and pledged to renegotiate or terminate the accord.

In a statement issued in Washington, Lighthizer said that since KORUS went into effect in 2012, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea has more than doubled to $27.6 billion last year, and that Seoul’s non-tariff barriers to U.S. goods were a problem.

“Unfortunately, too many American workers have not benefited from the agreement,” Lighthizer said. “USTR has long pressed the Korean government to address burdensome regulations which often exclude U.S. firms or artificially set prices for American intellectual property. This negotiation offers us an opportunity to resolve these and other barriers.”

Kim said Seoul had stressed that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea was not the result of the bilateral trade deal and proposed a joint study to examine the effects of the agreement.

The trade minister said the U.S. side had not brought up the possibility of terminating the trade pact during the talks, adding that South Korea would wait for the U.S. review of Tuesday’s discussions and its proposals.

The United States has been keen to address trade imbalances with South Korea, particularly for U.S.-produced vehicles, since President Trump has emphasized the imbalance in auto trade.

In 2016, South Korea’s car exports to the United States stood at $16.2 billion, while its imports of U.S. cars were $1.74 billion, a trade ministry official said based on data from the Korea Trade International Association.

Seoul maintains that the deal has been mutually beneficial, with exports of American beef to South Korea rising, saying last month that it would not necessarily renegotiate terms.

Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Phil Berlowitz

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