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Korea’s trade surplus with US under Trump down 34 percent

May 2, 2017 - 14:54 By Korea Herald
South Korea’s trade surplus with the US fell roughly 34 percent on-year in the first four months of 2017, amid the new US administration’s repeated threats to rewrite a bilateral trade deal with Seoul.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy on Tuesday, the country’s trade surplus with the US totaled $6.03 billion from January to April. The figure is down by $3.11 billion, or 34 percent, from $9.15 billion surplus a year earlier.

While exports to the US showed a slight decline, imports have posted double-digit growth. Exports to the US dropped by 1.3 percent to $22.22 billion, while imports to the US shot up by 22.5 percent to $16.48 billion.

Among US imports to Korea, agricultural and marine products amounted to $2.63 billion -- recording the largest increase among imported goods -- while equipment for semiconductor manufacturing increased by $1.55 billion and mineral products by $1.24 billion.

Local industry officials attribute the decline in trade surplus to US President Donald Trump’s multiple public statements that he has his sights on renegotiating or even ceasing the 5-year-old Korea-US free trade agreement.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump referred to the trade pact as “unacceptable” and added that his administration would seek to renegotiate the FTA following the administration’s revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

“It is unacceptable, it is a horrible deal made by Hillary,” Trump said in the interview. “It’s a horrible deal, and we are going to renegotiate that deal or terminate it.”

According to the US Census Bureau, the US goods trade deficit with Korea more than doubled -- from $13.2 billion in 2011 to $27.7 billion in 2016 -- since the FTA came into effect early 2012. 

Senior lawmakers of the US Democratic Party went on to publicly denounce Trump last week, with lawmakers saying they were outraged by the president’s comments on both the anti-missile system and Washington’s future alterations of the trade deal.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump had proven once again that “he’s out of his depth in the White House,” in a statement Friday, adding that the Democratic Party believes Trump is damaging the South Korea-US alliance.

Sen. Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also chimed in over the weekend stating that the US needed to instead reaffirm and strengthen its alliance with Korea, and referred to Trump’s comments as “damaging and disrespectful rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, along with his future initiatives to alter the conditions of the Korea-US FTA, Trump stirred even more controversy with the recent declaration that South Korea should pay $1 billion for the deployment of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense system.

However, Korea’s Ministry of National Defense stressed that the matter was not up for renegotiation, as an agreement had already been made that the US would pay for the deployment and operation of THAAD, while Seoul provides the land and supporting infrastructure, adding that the current plan was in line with the South Korea-US Status of Forces Agreement.

By Julie Jackson (