Tough on tradeU.S. President Donald Trump is ratcheting up his rhetoric against his country’s trade partners. On Monday, Trump said he would push for a “reciprocal tax” targeting South Korea, China and Japan, citing the large trade surpluses they have with the United States. The country loses “vast amounts of money with China and Japan and South Korea and so many other countries ... It’s a little tough for them because they’ve gotten away with murder for 25 years. But we’re going to be changing policy,” he said.
On Tuesday, Trump praised General Motors’ decision to close its plant in Gunsan, North Jeolla, one of its four plants in South Korea. He said that “already General Motors is coming back into Detroit.” He added that if he had not been elected president, Americans would not have heard such good news.
If Trump had really understood that a number of South Koreans will be critically affected by the decision by GM, he could not have made such self-praising remarks. Trump continued his habitual attacks on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 2012 between the Lee Myung-bak administration and Barack Obama’s administration. “We have a very bad trade deal with Korea,” Trump said during a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss steel and aluminum imports. “The trade deal was a disaster. We’ll either negotiate a fair deal or we’ll terminate the deal.”
What Trump really meant by the reciprocal tax is ambiguous. Nevertheless, his intention is clear. Ahead of the mid-term elections in November, he desires to appeal to voters in the American rust belt, who gave overwhelming support to him in the 2016 presidential election.
An avid champion of so-called “fair trade” based on “America First” — his signature campaign slogan — Trump will certainly raise his voice on trade down the road. As our government responded to his threats by deciding Wednesday to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the Trump administration’s decision to levy high tariffs on Korean steel and electrical transformers, the Moon Jae-in administration must take advantage of multilateral trade platforms to aggressively fight tariffs off while confronting protectionism in a determined way in bilateral trade disputes as well. We must not forget that there are no alliances in the realm of trade relations. The government must thoroughly prepare for future trade battles for the sake of our national interest.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 15, Page 26