The Trump administration is weighing giving notice to South Korea of plans to withdraw from a five-year-old bilateral trade pact, with a decision arriving as soon as this coming week, according to people familiar with the matter.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about the pact and the sharp increase in the U.S. trade deficit that followed the 2012 implementation of the agreement. Trade negotiators from the two countries have held a series of tense meetings over the summer with American officials leaving unhappy with what they felt was Korea’s unwillingness to make significant changes to the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus, according to people briefed on the meetings.
A White House spokeswoman said Saturday that “discussions are ongoing” with Seoul over the pact but declined to elaborate further. “We have no announcements at this time,” the spokeswoman added.
It is unclear whether the White House is really considering abrogating the pact, or wants to use the threat as a negotiating tactic to bring Seoul back to the bargaining table.
“It’s a real question how serious this is,” said one person outside the administration who was familiar with its discussions.
In a similar way, Mr. Trump threatened in April to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, before dropping that warning to renegotiate the deal with Canada and Mexico. Those talks are continuing this weekend in Mexico City, and Mr. Trump has in recent days revived his Nafta withdrawal threat should he be unhappy with the results.