Amid Nuclear Tensions, Trump Mulls Exit From South Korea Trade Deal – New York Times

“Discussions are ongoing, but we have no announcements at this time,” a White House spokeswoman said in an email.

But Mr. Trump, asked during a trip to the Gulf Coast on Saturday whether he was talking with his advisers about the trade deal, said: “I am. It’s very much on my mind.”

The idea of potentially withdrawing seems to have been prompted by the breakdown in negotiations between South Korean officials and the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, an American official with knowledge of the situation said.

An initial meeting generated little consensus, with South Korean officials offering to consider minor adjustments to the agreement but rejecting a wholesale renegotiation, angering hard-liners in the White House who have targeted countries like China, Japan, Mexico and South Korea that have large trade surpluses with the United States.

But it remains unclear whether the administration would actually withdraw from the deal, and industry representatives who have lobbied the White House say the president’s team has done little of the work — like a wide consultation with affected industries — needed before taking such a step.

The possibility of abandoning the agreement has alarmed economists and some members of the president’s own party who fear that such a move would force South Korea to block American manufacturers and farmers from a lucrative market.

“The president and Nebraska have a basic disagreement about trade,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who has frequently criticized Mr. Trump. “His administration holds 18th-century views of trade as a zero-sum game. I side with our farmers and ranchers who are feeding the world now.”

Mr. Lighthizer and other administration officials, including Peter Navarro, an economic adviser to the president, have long complained that many South Korean industries, especially the automotive sector, enjoy government protections that make it harder for American companies to compete.

Scrapping the deal would also have profound geopolitical implications in the region, said Michael Green, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who oversaw issues on the Korean Peninsula during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“One of the big reasons we decided to go forward with the agreement was to demonstrate to the South Koreans, North Koreans and Chinese that the U.S. was committed to this relationship for the long haul,” Mr. Green said.

That the administration would even consider canceling the agreement in the midst of the North Korean missile and nuclear crisis is astonishing, Mr. Green said.

“It’s probably all theater, but it has negative strategic consequences as we try to manage the North Korean threat,” he said.

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