Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

On Monday, President Trump and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea signed a revised U.S.-Korea (known as “KORUS”) free trade agreement on the sidelines of the United National General Assembly meeting this week in New York.  In April 2017, President Trump indicated that he wanted to either renegotiate or terminate the then-five year old agreement.  Since then, the parties have engaged in trade talks, under the auspices of the existing KORUS review procedures and otherwise, to update key provisions.  Early on, the United States appeared to be primarily focused on changes to help reduce the United States’ bilateral trade deficit.  In March 2018, the Office of the United States Trade Representative issued a summary of the agreed-upon outcomes of the negotiations, and released the draft text earlier this month, with emphasis on how the revisions will “rebalanc{e} our trade” and “reduce the trade deficit.”

The changes to KORUS focus on the auto sector, customs procedures, and pharmaceutical reimbursement.  With respect to autos, the largest change is a 20-year extended phase-out period for the current 25% U.S. tariff on imports of light trucks from Korea.  That tariff will now expire in 2041, instead of 2021, which, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, will delay the anticipated increase of 59,000 Korean truck imports.  Korea has also agreed to increasing the quota of U.S.-origin autos that meet U.S. safety standards (but not Korean safety standard) from 25,000 to 50,000 per manufacturer, per year.  Korea further agreed to recognizing U.S. standards for auto parts exports necessary to service U.S. vehicles in Korea and a harmonized testing system for emissions standards.  With respect to improving customs procedures, Korea will address onerous and costly customs verification procedures for U.S. exports, which have been
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A day after South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the parties have set a special second session of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) joint committee for October 4, 2017, in Washington.

The first special session of the KORUS joint committee (the first meeting of its kind under the agreement) took place in August, at USTR Lighthizer’s request, and focused on the U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea.  Trade Minister Kim did not agree to amend KORUS as suggested by the United States, but did propose a joint study on the impact of KORUS and the cause of the U.S. bilateral trade deficit.  
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