RICHFIELD, OHIO – U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he may hold up a trade agreement reached this week with South Korea until after a deal is reached with North Korea on denuclearization.
“I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea,” Trump said in a speech. “You know why? Because it’s a very strong card. And I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly,” he added.
Senior U.S. officials have expressed concerns privately that Seoul is the weak link in the U.S.-Japan-South Korean alliance and could be too quick to seal a deal with North Korea.
Trump agreed this month to accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. South Korean officials have said the meeting would take place by the end of May, after an inter-Korean summit in April.
“We’re moving along very nicely with North Korea. We’ll see what happens. Certainly the rhetoric has calmed down just a little bit,” Trump told construction workers in Ohio.
The United States and South Korea earlier this week agreed to revise their six-year-old free trade agreement with a side deal to deter competitive currency devaluation by Seoul and more access for U.S. automakers and drugmakers to the South Korean market.
The deal also lifts the threat of a 25 percent U.S. tariff on imports of steel from South Korea in exchange for quotas that will effectively cut U.S. imports of Korean steel by about 30 percent. Without the agreement in place, the tariffs would take effect May 1.
A statement by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong described steel terms as being agreed upon, but changes to the free deal are “agreement in principle on the general terms” while details are still being finalized.
The U.S. Treasury and the South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance are finalizing the currency terms, they said.
The trade deal changes, which preserve the U.S.-South Korean trading relationship at a critical time for Seoul, do not need Congress’ approval but are subject to a 60-day consultation period with Seoul.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not respond to a request for clarification on Trump’s comments.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that she had not heard the president’s remarks, but added: “This is not a done deal. It’s not a final agreement.”