Trump’s trade talk is scaring South Korea SEOUL: American cherries are widely adored in South Korea, the Asian nation President Barack Obama has called “one of America’s closest allies and greatest friends.” In the “premium” section of a bustling Lotte department store here, a small case of cherries from Washington state sells for 9,000 won, or about $8.
That money winds quickly back to American farmers, who have seen their exports soar since a 2012 South Korea-US free-trade agreement triggered a flood of new cash from Koreans to American automakers, tech firms and other companies. US cherry exports have exploded 172 per cent since 2011, to $109 million, alongside similarly rapid rises of made-in-America cars, beef and machines.
But the agreement has come under fire from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who in his Republican National Convention speech last month targeted the agreement as a job-killing trade deal. Those attacks have sent ripples of anxiety through Korea, leading many in one of America’s top trade partners to pay close attention to an election 5,000 miles away.
“The atmosphere is very worrying for business leaders in Korea,” said Kim In-ho, chairman of the Korea International Trade Association, the industry group that represents nearly all of the country’s international-trade business, roughly 70,000 companies. “Opponents of the free-trade agreement are using numbers and figures they don’t understand.”
That tension shows how Trump’s protectionist talk has not just spurred a debate over trade at home. It has also sent a wave of anxiety abroad, threatening to undermine the trade partnerships US businesses and diplomats worked for years to secure. “If the Americans choose Trump, that will have consequences,” French President François Hollande said last week. “An American election is a world election.”
Trump’s campaign has focused exceptional heat on the Korean agreement, America’s second-largest free-trade deal (following the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA). Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican overseeing Trump’s foreign policy team, previously supported the Korea-US deal but now says it was a “mistake.” Trump foreign-policy adviser Walid Phares told journalists at Yonhap, South Korea’s biggest news agency, in May that Trump wanted to “go back to ground zero” in the deal.
Trump’s recent campaigning extends a long-running criticism of the Korea deal, which in June he said “destroyed nearly 100,000 American jobs” – a claim made using calculations that The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has called “misleading.” In his 2011 book “Time to Get Tough,” he criticised “the deal Obama cut with South Korea” as “so bad, so embarrassing, that you can hardly believe anyone would sign such a thing.”
South Korea occupies a central point of America’s defence strategy: Seated near North Korea and China, it serves as one of the US military’s largest hubs in the Asia-Pacific, an area of the world military chiefs have sought to “rebalance” towards after years of focus on the Middle East.
Bloomberg-The Washington Post Service