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US, South Korea to hold trade talks in January

The U.S. and South Korea will hold negotiations to modify their existing free trade agreement Jan. 5, 2018, in Washington, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The U.S. has pushed to renegotiate the five-year-old United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration says has led to a growing trade deficit for the U.S. and has blocked market access for American exports.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Japan, Korea, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Michael Beeman will lead the U.S. delegation at the negotiations, while South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy Director General Myung-hee Yoo will represent the Korean delegation.

South Korea held an economic feasibility study on reworking the trade deal as well as public hearings on the matter this fall, which the USTR said were recently completed.

According to the trade representative, the trade deal has negatively impacted the U.S. auto sector, which now has a trade deficit of $24 billion, a rise of 77% since 2011.

The total U.S. trade deficit with South Korea rose to $27.6 billion in 2016 from $13.2 billion in 2011. The deal went into effect in 2012 under the Obama administration.

Two special sessions were held by trade officials from both countries, on Aug. 22 and Oct. 4, talks that were initially marked by tension but improved throughout the course of the late summer and fall.

The trade talks come after the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended in November a 50% tariff rate on large residential washing machine imports built by South Korean companies LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. in order to make the domestic industry, including Michigan-based Whirlpool Corp., more competitive.

On Dec. 11, South Korean officials asked in comments submitted to the USTR to not impose any such tariff on the country's companies, saying there is "no serious injury and threat thereof caused by imports from Korea."

The USTR's Trade Policy Staff Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the washer antidumping measure Jan. 3, 2018.