Trump hints at pulling out of free trade deal with South Korea

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The U.S. -Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), hammered out by Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, has been a frequent target for Trump, who in earlier interviews with Reuters threatened to withdraw from what he called an unequal deal in which Washington runs a trade deficit of nearly $28 billion with Seoul. -South Korea free-trade agreement with his advisers following a newspaper report that he's considering terminating the pact.

"It is very much on my mind", Mr Trump said in Houston when asked if he is talking to advisers and will do something about the pact this week.

While in Houston to survey the unfolding disaster left by Hurricane Harvey, Trump was asked about media reports that he is mulling a withdrawal from the deal.

Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong on August 22, after holding a special session with the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, said both sides have failed to reach an agreement and that the Korean team did not agree to the USA proposals.

Some expressed the view that the U.S. leader might be using the economic agenda with South Korea to gain an upper hand in North Korea's nuclear issues.

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The news was first reported Friday night by Inside U.S. Trade and then reported earlier Saturday by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

Mr Trump has blamed the accord on his 2016 Democratic presidential election opponent, Hillary Clinton, who as Mr Obama's Secretary of State promoted the final version of the agreement before its approval by the US Congress in 2011.

No announcement is expected on the U.S.

Terminating the trade agreement could put a chill on relations with a key ally in the region, though Trump campaigned on ending free trade deals he said cost U.S.jobs and put US businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

The Korea Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Sunday said it is preparing for all possibilities and monitoring the situation closely.

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It seems the US president has selected Seoul as his next target, despite the Korean government's efforts to curb what the United States considers a trade imbalance.

In recent days, a frustrated Mr Trump has pushed his staff to take bold action against a host of governments, including the one in Seoul, that he has accused of unfair trade practices.

He pulled the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement during his first week in office and his administration is now in talks to rewrite the 23-year-old North American FTA. Trump said last month that Canada and Mexico are being "difficult" and he'll probably need to scrap the pact. If true, the move would deal a big blow to the relations between the allies, stoking economic tension at a time of escalated threats from North Korea.

South Korea's business community hopes Trump's comments were more rhetorical and less policy-minded - words meant to gain leverage - and that the president has no real intention to terminate the deal. South Korea could also decide to refuse any discussions with Mr Trump, kicking off a trade war between the two countries.

But it remains unclear whether the administration would actually withdraw from the deal, and industry representatives who have lobbied the White House say the President's team has done little of the work - like a wide consultation with affected industries - needed before taking such a step.

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Korea's US exports have dipped from $36.5 billion previous year to $35.7 billion as of the end of June.

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