U.S. President Donald Trump will press South Korean President Moon Jae-in to improve trade imbalances with the United States during meetings at the White House on Thursday and Friday, a White House official said. Moon, whose talks with Trump will focus largely on efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, was due to deliver a speech on the U.S. economic relationship at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday evening. In an interview with Reuters in April, Trump called the five-year-old U.S.-South Korean trade pact known as KORUS “horrible” and “unacceptable” and said he would either renegotiate or terminate it.
An official told reporters Trump would raise concerns about barriers to U.S. auto sales in South Korea and “the enormous amount of steel that sometimes ends up being surplus Chinese steel that comes to the United States via South Korea.” The official predicted “a friendly and frank discussion about the trade relationship,” however. KORUS was initially negotiated by the President George W. Bush administration in 2007, but was scrapped and renegotiated under President Barack Obama three years later. The U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea has more than doubled since KORUS took effect in 2012, from $13.2 billion in 2011 to $27.7 billion in 2016. It was forecast to boost U.S. exports by $10 billion a year, but they were $3 billion lower in 2016 than in 2011.
Moon’s first overseas trip since taking office on May 10 comes as the Trump administration considers whether to impose tariffs or quotas on steel imports. In April, Trump ordered an investigation under the rarely used section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that allows restrictions on imports for reasons of national security. Foreign steel companies have been concerned that the investigation may be aimed at shoring up American producers and cutting out foreign competition.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said scrapping KORUS would be a rash mistake that would play into the hands of competitors. After arriving on Wednesday, Moon visited a new Washington-area memorial commemorating the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a 1950 Korean War campaign involving U.S. Marines that enabled the evacuation of tens of thousands of refugees from what is now North Korea, including his own parents.
“It’s quite moving for me to meet you here,” Moon said at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, addressing an audience that included members of the U.S. and South Korean armed forces. “I have longed to visit this memorial, and now I am finally here.” “Sixty seven years ago in 1950, the United States Marines made noble sacrifices for a country they never knew, and a people they never met.”