Pence says South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement to be reviewed, reformed

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told business leaders in Seoul on Tuesday that the Trump administration will review and reform the five-year-old free trade agreement between the two countries.

Pence said the U.S. trade deficit has more than doubled in the five years since the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement began and there are too many barriers for U.S. businesses in the country.

Pence’s meeting in Seoul with business leaders comes before he heads to Tokyo later on Tuesday, where he will meet Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso and kick off talks that Washington hopes will open doors for U.S.-made products.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to narrow big trade deficits with nations like China and Japan, saying he would boost U.S. manufacturing jobs.

“That’s the hard truth,” Pence told an American Chamber of Commerce meeting in Seoul. “We have to be honest about where our trade relationship is falling short”, said Pence, adding the Trump administration would work with businesses on reforms.

Trump campaigned on an “America First” pledge, promising to overhaul trade agreements that he said hurt U.S. jobs.

Before the free trade agreement between the two countries took effect in 2012, South Korea’s trade surplus against the United States stood at $11.6 billion at end-2011. In 2016, the surplus measured at $23.2 billion, according to official data.

James Kim, CEO of GM Korea, said there are opportunities to improve the free trade deal between Washington and Seoul.

“We need to minimize as many unique Korea standards which would make it easier to buy American products made in America,” Kim said at the meeting with Pence.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton, additional reporting by Christine Kim; Writing by James Pearson, Ju-min Park; Editing by Michael Perry