President #Trump has instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw the United States from a free-#trade agreement with South Korea, several people close to the process said, a move that would stoke economic tensions with the U.S. ally as both countries confront a crisis over North Korea’s #nuclear weapons program.
Withdrawing from the trade deal would back up Trump’s promises to crack down on what he considers unfair trade competition from other countries, but his top national security and economic advisers are pushing him to abandon the plan, arguing it would hamper U.S. economic growth and strain ties with an important ally. Officials including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn oppose withdrawal, said people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
Although it is still possible Trump could decide to stay in the agreement to renegotiate its terms, the internal preparations for terminating the deal are far along, and the formal withdrawal process could begin as soon as this week, the people said.
Rolling back free-trade agreements was a top priority of some of the senior members of the Trump administration who have left in recent weeks, including former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. Bannon often found himself outmaneuvered internally by Cohn and others who aligned with business groups to warn of the economic consequences of withdrawing from trade deals, but Trump’s pursuit of terminating the South Korea deal appears to demonstrate the president’s personal commitment to reverse U.S. policymakers’ long-standing pursuit of free trade.
Trump has threatened before to withdraw from trade pacts only to pull back, but his threat to South Korea comes as the two countries look to create a united front against North Korea at a time when military tensions are at their highest level in years.