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Trump: ‘We may terminate’ U.S.-South Korea trade agreement

President Trump speaks before signing a Memorandum on Aluminum Imports and Threats to National Security in the Oval Office of the White House on April 27. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump threatened to terminate the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea in an interview Thursday night, declaring that the five-year-old accord with a key ally was “a horrible deal” that has left America ­“destroyed.”

During an Oval Office interview about trade policy in North America, Trump served notice that he is looking to disrupt an important partnership in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region as well — even with Seoul on edge because of North Korea's escalating military provocations.

Trump sharply criticized the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus, which was negotiated and signed during the George W. Bush administration. The latest version was ratified by Congress in 2011 and took effect in March 2012 during the Obama administration.

“It’s a horrible deal. It was a Hillary Clinton disaster, a deal that should’ve never been made,” Trump said, referring to the then-secretary of state who became the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. “It’s a one-way street.”

South Korea is the United States' sixth-largest goods trading partner, and the U.S. goods trade deficit with the country was $27.7 billion last year, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade ­ Representative.

Mystification in South Korea over Trump’s comments

Next week marks an anniversary for Korus and triggers a review period to potentially renegotiate or ratify a new version of the agreement.

“We’ve told them that we’ll either terminate or negotiate,” Trump said. “We may terminate.”

The president said that the process of termination of Korus is simpler than with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“With NAFTA, we terminate tomorrow; if we did, it ends in six months,” he said. “With the ­Korean deal, we terminate and it’s over.”

Trump added: “I will do that unless we make a fair deal. We’re getting destroyed in Korea.”

South Korea’s Trade Ministry said Friday that it has no plans to renegotiate the agreement, the Associated Press reported.

The country’s vice trade minister said South Korea was not notified of any trade renegotiation.

On his trip to Asia last week, Vice President Pence said to an audience of business leaders in Seoul that the United States was looking to "reform" the Korus agreement because U.S. businesses "face too many barriers to entry, which tilts the playing field against American workers and American growth."

Trump’s threat to South Korea comes after he withdrew the United States from the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. The Trump administration also is pushing to renegotiate trade relationships with Japan, another important ally.

During a visit last week to Tokyo to open an economic dialogue with the Japanese, Pence said: "We seek trade that is free. We seek trade that is fair."