Earlier this month, Donald Trump threatened to put a 25 percent tariff on all of South Korea’s steel exports to the United States (along with those of every other country). His trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, then used that threat to extract concessions from Seoul on other trade issues: This week, South Korea agreed to put “voluntary” limits on its steel exports to the U.S. — and open its auto market to American manufacturers — in exchange for an exemption from our nation’s new steel duties.
Yesterday, the president hailed the agreement as a “great deal for American and Korean workers.” But, a little more than 24 hours later, Trump apparently decided that threatening to violate America’s existing trade agreements with South Korea had worked out so “great,” he might as well try it again.
“I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea,” Trump said of his newly minted trade agreement with South Korea, during a speech in Richfield, Ohio. “You know why? Because it’s a very strong card and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and we’re moving along very nicely with North Korea.”
Here, the president appears to be saying that he may violate the terms of a trade deal he struck with South Korea yesterday — unless Seoul convinces North Korea that it can trust him not to violate the terms of a denuclearization deal.
This took some White House officials by surprise, according to Bloomberg.
But, moments later, Trump reiterated his belief that the trade agreement he just made with South Korea was “wonderful.” And, as of this writing, neither the U.S. Trade Representative’s office nor the South Korean embassy has issued a statement on Trump’s threat. So, it appears that there is no diplomatic crisis here — parties involved understand that when the president says he’s going to do something, there’s little reason to assume that he will actually do it.
Surely, this state of affairs will in no way undermine the administration’s efforts to reach an unprecedented nuclear deal with Kim Jong-un’s regime.