US, South Korea agree to amend trade agreement

US, South Korea agree to amend trade agreement
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The United States and South Korea have agreed to amend their five-year-old trade agreement although the deal is short on specifics.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMORE said the two trading partners would get more aggressive in working out what they characterized would be a better agreement for both nations after a second set of talks in Washington on Wednesday.

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"I now look forward to intensified engagement with Korea in an expeditious manner to resolve outstanding implementation issues as well as to engage soon on amendments that will lead to fair, reciprocal trade," Lighthizer said in a statement.

Seoul had initially expressed resistance to making changes to the U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement, while President Trump threatened to pull the U.S. out of the agreement, which went into effect in 2012.

U.S. officials have said the agreement has become too lopsided in Korea’s favor and that changes were necessary to provide a better balance, especially with a large autos deficit. 

The U.S. deficit in the automotive sector is $24 billion, an increase of 77 percent since 2011, according to  figures for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

Seoul is expected to begin discussions within the country with the legislature and with other trade interests to determine its top priorities. That process will include an economic study and public hearings about the trade deal. 

On hearing the news, South Korean political parties urged trade officials to focus on protecting their national interests.

"We'd like to ask the relevant authorities to put the national interest at the top of the priority list," said the ruling Democratic Party spokeswoman Kim Hyun according to Korean news reports.

"There may be different types of concerns in different areas in regards to the trade deal amendment, but the national interest should precede everything," she said.