The United States' recent issuance of safeguard measures against washers and solar panels could hurt the prospects of amending a bilateral free trade agreement with South Korea, a former U.S. negotiator said Wednesday.
Wendy Cutler, former chief negotiator for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS), raised the concern as bilateral talks are under way to renegotiate the five-year-old pact.
A week earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump approved tariffs on imported large residential washing machines and solar cells to protect the domestic industry from foreign manufacturers such as South Korea's Samsung and LG.
Seoul has vowed to sue the U.S. at the World Trade Organization short of a bilateral settlement.
"This dispute is healthy ... because if you try and address that issue in this KORUS amendment process, it complicates the negotiations," Cutler said at a forum hosted by the Korea Economic Institute of America. "But once again, I think that these two decisions, coupled with an impending decision on steel ... could set a cloud over the negotiations and kind of affect the tone and willingness of both sides to work together enthusiastically to reach an agreement."
Negotiators from the two countries met in Seoul Wednesday for the second round of negotiations. Seoul's chief delegate, Yoo Myung-hee, told reporters after the talks that her team had raised the safeguard issue and would discuss it again Thursday.
Trump has labeled KORUS a "disaster" that increased the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea and took away 200,000 American jobs. In September the administration was close to terminating the deal but stopped short amid opposition from within Congress and renewed tensions over North Korea's sixth nuclear weapons test.
Cutler warned the administration that withdrawing from the pact would damage its prospects for bilateral trade negotiations with other Asian nations.