Boehner urges Trump to stay in South Korean trade deal

Speaker of the House John Boehner in October 2015. (Photo: Lauren Victoria Burke/AP)

Former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is imploring President Trump not to pull out of a trade deal with South Korea at a time of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Boehner has been relatively quiet since leaving the House in 2015 but uncharacteristically spoke out Tuesday morning on the somewhat obscure issue of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which he shepherded to passage in 2011.

In a written statement, Boehner praised Trump’s “tough stance” on North Korea but insisted the U.S. must strengthen — not weaken — its economic partnerships with the Pacific region. He said the U.S. cannot isolate Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang by pulling away from “our current engagements and commitments.”

“Withdrawing from the South Korea-US Trade Agreement [KORUS] would undermine America’s strategic objectives in the Pacific region and undercut our own workers and employers, who continue to depend on the free flow of goods and services between the US and the Republic of Korea,” Boehner said.

In September 2016, Boehner became a strategic adviser focusing on global business development for Squire Patton Boggs, a high-powered, international lobbying firm that advises Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 corporations on law, business and government. It is one of the largest U.S.-headquartered law firms in Asia. According to his company bio, his mission is to “help remove government barriers to economic growth and job creation.”

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and President Trump, June 30, 2017. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump has long been skeptical of trade deals, and he raged against several of them on the campaign trail for being unfair to the U.S. In April, he told the Washington Post that because of KORUS the U.S. is “getting destroyed in Korea” and that he planned to terminate it.

“It’s a horrible deal. It was a Hillary Clinton disaster, a deal that should’ve never been made,” Trump told the Post. “It’s a one-way street.”

Trump reportedly instructed his advisers earlier this month to prepare for possibly withdrawing from the South Korean deal to make good on his “tough on trade” rhetoric, but they are concerned that it might hurt the country’s relationship with a strategic ally and hinder economic growth.

Seoul’s neighbor to the north has recently staged a number of provocative tests of its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, with the stated goal of being able to hit the mainland U.S. with a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

Trump and the North Korean regime have also exchanged a series of aggressive statements, the latest of which was Pyongyang on Tuesday condemning “vicious” new sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Those sanctions were in response to North Korea’s most recent nuclear test, purportedly of a hydrogen bomb.

Former Speaker Boehner in April 2017. (Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters)

In his Tuesday statement, Boehner said the U.S. must renew its commitment not only with South Korea but also with Australia, Japan and China. He recalled Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s commitment to economic cooperation last April.

“I have great confidence in the president’s national security team, and it is evident our Commander-in-Chief does as well,” Boehner said.

The former House speaker also alluded to the populist nationalism pushing some politicians in the U.S. and Europe to retreat from international bodies and agreements. Trump ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership upon taking office and announced in June that the U.S. would leave the Paris Agreement, but Boehner hopes the president will not follow through on his threat to exit the Korean trade deal.

“The president deserves credit not only for having put this skilled team in place, but also for having consistently listened to them and heeded their recommendations on matters such as these in the face of political pressures and isolationist impulses,” Boehner said.

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