WASHINGTON/SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. is "very close" to resolving a trade row with South Korea, hinting at an announcement next week.
The president was apparently referring to the renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement as well as Seoul's push to win an exemption from U.S. tariffs on steel imports.
"The deal with South Korea is -- according to Secretary Ross and Bob Lighthizer -- is very close to being finished," he said during a news conference at the White House, referring to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the U.S. trade representative. "And we're going to have a wonderful deal with a wonderful ally. We're getting very close to it."
Speaking alongside Trump, Ross confirmed that the U.S. is "relatively close to a pretty comprehensive resolution" with South Korea.
"It will encompass, if it goes through, both the 232s and broader trade issues. And we hope by sometime next week to be able to have a real announcement," he said.
Under Section 232 of a trade act, the U.S. on Friday imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.
South Korea -- the No. 3 exporter of steel products to the U.S. -- has won a temporary exemption until the end of April, but will have to continue negotiations for a permanent exemption.
Trump claimed the deal, apparently meaning the free trade agreement, "was causing a lot of problems for our country, in terms of employment and in terms of lots of other things."
Also, Seoul's trade ministry said the two sides are close to reaching an agreement.
"We are still talking, but on the final stage," said an official from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. "We've ironed out many issues and now we are making the final touches."
Negotiations to amend the KORUS trade deal have been under way since January, with the U.S. side demanding "fairer" trade in the auto sector. Trump has repeatedly slammed the six-year-old agreement as a bad deal that cost American jobs and widened the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea.
Seoul officials and many analysts have pointed to macroeconomic factors behind the imbalance and highlighted the U.S. surplus in services trade.
South Korea's trade surplus dropped from $25.8 billion in 2015 to US$17.8 billion last year on sluggish sales of autos and steel and increased imports of American beef and natural gas.
Washington has been seen using the tariffs as leverage to draw a better trade deal. Seoul has said a trade row is not helpful at a time when the two allies should coordinate closely to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are set to hold separate summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this spring.
"The trade situation, we'll be talking about next week," Trump said. "We have many trade deals, not only the deal being made on South Korea, which looks like it's very close to being finalized, but many other countries are now negotiating free trade deals with us."
He went on to say that part of the reason that has happened is "the fact that we have the tariffs on steel and the tariffs on aluminum."
"Because it showed how unfair some of these trade deals that have been in existence for many years -- how unfair they've been," he said