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US and South Korea to begin talks to renegotiate trade deal

The U.S. and South Korea have agreed to begin the process to amend the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, marking a positive shift in tone from what was largely seen as failed talks on the five-year-old trade deal this summer.

Following the second special session meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong in Washington on Oct. 4, the South Korean trade minister said in a statement, reported by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, that it will honor the Trump administration's request to rework the trade deal, which the U.S. argues has impeded exports and increased its trade deficit with its Asian ally.

"The two sides shared an understanding of the need to amend the free trade agreement to further strengthen the mutual benefits of the Korea-U.S. FTA," according to Kim's statement in the report.

South Korea will conduct an economic feasibility study and public hearings to begin negotiations, Yonhap reported.

In an Oct. 4 statement, Lighthizer said he will push to improve outcomes under the agreement "for all Americans" in any upcoming talks. A date was not given for the start of negotiations.

"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.

The U.S. has said the deal, which went into effect in 2012 under the Obama administration, has led to a growing trade deficit and blocked market access for U.S. exports. The U.S. trade deficit with South Korea grew to $27.6 billion in 2016 from $13.2 billion in 2011, and the U.S. deficit in the auto sector is $24 billion, according to the trade representative, an increase of 77% since 2011.

The latest talks followed the first special session of the trade deal, held in Seoul on Aug. 22. The first session was largely seen as a failure, and Kim later argued that the U.S. trade deficit is not caused by the trade deal and pushed for its root cause before continuing talks. Lighthizer said Sept. 22 that the two countries would continue to work toward amending the deal this fall.

President Donald Trump, who has previously threatened to terminate the trade pact with South Korea, initiated the joint committee process in July.