Trump’s First Trade Deal: The Slightly Revised Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement



Simon Lester, Inu Manak, and Kyounghwa Kim | Cato Institute

     While the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has received far more attention, a lesser known U.S. trade deal has also been reworked. In April of 2017, President Trump proclaimed his displeasure with the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (commonly referred to as “KORUS”), stating, “It was a Hillary Clinton disaster, a deal that should’ve never been made.”1 Trump said he had told the South Koreans, “We’ll either terminate or negotiate. We may terminate.”2 This set the wheels in motion for a relatively low-profile trade renegotiation that became Trump’s first trade deal. The renegotiation of KORUS provides a useful example of Trump’s trade dealmaking in practice. As we will show below, the renegotiation made only minor changes to the agreement and could be taken to mean that the reality of Trump’s trade policy may not always match the rhetoric. However, the administration’s concerns about trade with Korea have always been less prominent than its concerns about trade with other trading partners, so the conclusion of the KORUS talks with only small changes may simply be a reflection of the administration’s focus on other areas of trade policy rather than an indication of its general approach to trade policy.


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