U.S. business lobbyist defends free trade pact

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U.S. business lobbyist defends free trade pact

A senior official from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement has favored both countries since its ratification, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claim that it has been responsible for a U.S. trade deficit.

“U.S. businesses believe the Korea-U.S. FTA is working well,” Tami Overby, senior vice president for Asia, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Overby stressed the importance of the free trade agreement as one of the United States’ three remaining trade agreements in Asia.

The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon after Trump was inaugurated in January. The Korea-U.S. agreement was one of the bilateral trade agreements that Trump said disadvantaged American companies and job seekers.

On July 12, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative sent a formal request to the Korean government for a meeting to discuss revisions.

While Overby said the current agreement was not perfect, it was doing its job for American companies by creating a better environment to conduct business and make investments in the country. One change she cited was improved regulations regarding transparency and predictability.

On Trump’s stance that the agreement played a crucial role in the U.S. trade deficit, Overby said the main reason was not the agreement itself but Korea’s sluggish economy, adding that the loss would have been “significantly higher” if it did not exist.

She said the deficit does not fully demonstrate the scope of trade relations between the two countries, as the count excludes services, direct investment from Korean companies to the United States and spending by students and tourists.

The United States’ trade deficit in the goods sector has been the core rationale behind Trump’s claim that the free trade agreement is a “one-way street.” The deficit doubled from $13.2 billion in 2011 to $27.6 billion last year. The free trade agreement with Korea went into effect in 2012.

Overby disagreed with the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea’s proposal of creating a $10 billion fund to purchase American products as a way to leave a favorable impression on Trump. It was one of Amcham’s core suggestions made to the Korean government in June after an annual visit to Washington.

“We do not believe in managed trade,” she said. “Our focus is to get a regulatory environment as transparent and up to the highest standard possible.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON, YONHAP [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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