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South Korea, US trade officials start talks on possible FTA amendment

[SEOUL] South Korean and US officials began talks on Tuesday over possible revisions to a five-year-old free trade agreement, as the US administration seeks to follow through on President Donald Trump's pledge to cut deficits with trading partners.

Mr Trump, in an interview with Reuters in April, had branded the bilateral trade agreement with South Korea a "horrible deal"and indicated he would renegotiate or terminate the accord.

Last month, Washington issued a request to convene a special session of the Joint Committee under the Korea-US (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement to negotiate amendments to the trade pact.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun Chong and his American counterpart US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer opened the meeting via a video conference on Tuesday morning. "The outcome of the first round of the talks is hard to predict," Mr Kim told reporters prior to a fuller briefing set for 0830 GMT.

Mr Lighthizer said in July the US trade deficit in goods with South Korea had doubled from US$13.2 billion in 2011 to US$27.6 billion last year.

Seoul maintains that the deal has been mutually beneficial, and said last month that the joint committee meeting did not necessarily mean that South Korea would renegotiate terms.

South Korea has also said it first needs to be established whether the US deficit is a result of other structural issues in US industries.

The bilateral accord was initially negotiated during the Republican administration of President George W Bush in 2007, but that version was scrapped and renegotiated by President Barack Obama's Democratic administration three years later.