Trump Secures First Trade Deal, Hailing It As 'Historic Milestone'

By Patrick Goodenough | September 25, 2018 | 4:37am EDT
President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in hold bilateral talks on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, at the New York Palace Hotel in New York City. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

( – President Trump and his South Korean counterpart on Monday signed the first major trade agreement finalized during Trump’s presidency – a deal which U.S. officials say will reduce a U.S. trade deficit that more than doubled since the original U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) came into effect in 2012.

Before the signing in New York, Trump hailed the move as a “historic milestone in trade” while President Moon Jae-in characterized it as an expansion of the “rock-solid alliance” between the two countries.

South Korea is America’s sixth-largest trading partner and a key treaty ally in Northeast Asia, where bellicose rhetoric and nuclear and missile threats have given way to efforts to achieve a formal peace agreement on a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

The revised KORUS contains significant amendments to the original one, which Trump while campaigning for the White House described as a “job killer,” especially for the U.S. automobile industry.

Among the key changes, the new deal:

--Doubles the cap on the number of cars U.S. automakers can sell to South Korea that aren’t required to meet South Korean emission and labeling standards – which differ from those in the U.S.

--Extends by further 20 years (from 2021 to 2041) a 25 percent U.S. import tariff on South Korean trucks.

--Introduces a product-specific quota on South Korean steel shipments to the U.S. which U.S. trade officials say will result in a significant reduction in steel shipments to the United States. In return, the U.S. has exempted South Korea from a 25 percent tariff on steel imports.

The deal is expected to take effect on January 1.

‘The only person who can solve this problem’

Alongside the trade focus of Monday’s meetings, Trump and Moon also discussed their diplomatic initiatives with Pyongyang. Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in a historic first in Singapore last June, and said Monday he expected a second summit to take place “in the not too distant future.”

Moon held his third summit with Kim last week, in Pyongyang, and according to his spokesman he handed Trump a personal message from Kim during Monday’s talks in New York.

Speaking through an interpreter to reporters alongside Trump before their bilateral meeting, Moon noted that Kim last week for the first time publicly expressed his commitment to denuclearize, in front of global media, and in front of “150,000 citizens of Pyongyang.”

“Now, North Korea’s decision to relinquish its nuclear program has been officialized to a degree that not even those within North Korea can reverse,” he argued.

Moon praised Trump personally for the progress.

“Thanks to your bold decision and new approach, we are in the process of solving a problem that no one has been able to solve in the decades past,” he said.

“And Chairman Kim also repeatedly conveyed his unwavering trust and expectations for you, while expressing his hope to meet you soon to swiftly conclude the denuclearization process with you, because you are, indeed, the only person who can solve this problem.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also in New York for this week’s high-level U.N. events, told reporters he expected to visit North Korea soon – before the end of the year – to prepare for a second Trump-Kim summit.

In response to a reporter’s suggestion that another summit would be premature ahead a hammered-out agreement, Pompeo pointed to a history of failed diplomacy with Pyongyang.

“We went at this the other way for decades, and North Korea continued to build its nuclear program, right?” he said. “We tried to do details. We tried to do step-for-step. We tried to do trade-for-trade. Each of those failed.”

The Trump approach is different: “We’re bringing the two senior leaders – the individuals who can actually make the decisions that will move this process forward – bring them together so we can continue to make progress towards what the U.N. Security Council has demanded and what Chairman Kim has promised he would do.”

Pompeo declined to comment on the state of the negotiation but stressed that the U.S. remains firm in its stance that Security Council sanctions must remain in force until North Korea completely and verifiably dismantles its nuclear programs.

“That’s the core proposition that the president agreed to in Singapore, and it’s the one we’re going to continue to honor through the whole process.”

Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, have been pushing for early sanctions relief. The U.S. is accusing Russia in particular of being deceitful and uncooperative in the effort to keep that pressure on.

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