Near the end of rampant news cycle rife with the irrational fear that the 45th President of the United States will start a nuclear war with North Korea, President Donald Trump actually seems to publicly challenge the other Korea to what could end up being a trade war.

It’s almost as if the Short-Fingered Vulgarian is unclear as to which nation is our ally and which is our enemy.  I’m generally unclear what exactly our present trade agreement with South Korea entails, let alone what about it the President of the United States finds unsatisfactory.

What I do know is that it’s fairly stupid to navigate a potential nuclear war with North Korea while determining a trade war with our military ally against North Korea.  It’s unknown whether President Trump will pursue a new negotiation with South Korea but it’s unlikely.


It is truly crazy, but I lived in Korea over 10 years ago and had a good friend who went on one or two dates with this guy who worked at the U.S. Embassy and was like the number two guy there. Basically our little Mike Pence in Seoul. (But I ought to apologize for that characterization – what a terrible thing to say, I know!)

I later learned their hierarchy had multiple deputies, though, so it was obviously complicated but I knew he oversaw the economic relationship bit. But we’d always bump into each other at bars, which I found just so felicitous because this was the one time of the week when I was engaged in both the over-consumption of alcohol and the dissemination of my opinions about economics. And who among us does not wish to hear the (quite urgent!) economic opinions of a 23-year-old? So trust me, I’m sure he did not find me extremely annoying. (That’s sarcasm – someone always misses it!)

But at that time, this acquaintance of mine had just one job as a diplomat: negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement between Korea and the US. And he succeeded in a way. The deal was signed in June 2007. But Nancy Pelosi blocked it from going into effect until 2012, because: Bush.

Everyone agreed this would benefit both countries. Free and open trade between nations used to be a conviction held by nearly all Republicans and what used to be called “New Democrats” (a moniker which still fits as tariffs and trade wars remain extremely old, stale ideas!). In any case, there are people in both parties who still do believe in free trade. Even a few in the GOP!

But this agreement is so much more important. It is not just about money. Cooperation with South Korea is crucial because of its direct effect on the safety and the LIVES of so many human beings, and particularly so many Americans.
Donald Trump intends to withdraw from the agreement this week.

(I find it ironic: every poll indicates the American people desire to withdraw from the employment agreement we approved for Mr. Trump last fall.)

Trump makes the same silly argument that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Charlie Rangel made in 2007. And it’s aimed at simple people: this trade deal benefits Korea more than the US. It’s the kind of silly garbage that Trump pushes because he thinks you and I are too dumb or disinterested to put that fact in context. Korea’s population is 51 million and ours is over six times greater. Korea’s GDP is $1.4 trillion and ours is 13 times greater. Maybe I was asleep during my Trump University classes, but these are not two partners who should be asked to come at this toe to toe. We can cut them some slack. Are we worried they’ll get all the KIA factories and we won’t have any KIA factories of our own to work in?

Also, this is not how civilized nations treat each other. Donald J. Trump strikes me as the kind of person who keeps a list of every Christmas gift he sends and its cost, then after he receives gifts in return, does a price-check (but not on Amazon! Kills jobs! Prices too low and shipping too fast! Heard Jeff Bezos has bigger hands! Sad!) Then he bounces the lists off each other. All significant discrepancies elicit nasty phone calls or he vomits out some garbage tweet demanding the renegotiation of this unfair gift exchange and a threat that they’ll be required to pay for both gifts next year.

I feel like I’ve gotten all my Facebook done for the week and it’s not even Monday!


I don’t feel bad at all for outright grabbing someone’s entire Facebook post for content. Nor I do feel bad for cribbing from the CIA World Factbook


South Korea over the past four decades has demonstrated incredible economic growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy. In the 1960s, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies.
A system of close government and business ties, including directed credit and import restrictions, initially made this success possible. The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption.
The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea’s development model, including high debt/equity ratios and massive short-term foreign borrowing. GDP plunged by 7% in 1998, and then recovered by 9% in 1999-2000. South Korea adopted numerous economic reforms following the crisis, including greater openness to foreign investment and imports. Growth moderated to about 4% annually between 2003 and 2007.
South Korea’s export-focused economy was hit hard by the 2008 global economic downturn, but quickly rebounded in subsequent years, reaching over 6% growth in 2010. The US-Korea Free Trade Agreement was ratified by both governments in 2011 and went into effect in March 2012. Between 2012 and 2016, the economy experienced slow growth – 2%-3% per year – due to sluggish domestic consumption, a drop in foreign demand for South Korean exports, increased competition from regional rivals such as China and Japan, and declining investment. The administration in 2016 faced the challenge of balancing heavy reliance on exports with domestic restructuring efforts in the country’s shipbuilding and shipping industries.
The South Korean economy’s short-term challenges include a potential loss of consumer confidence due to issues with its mobile phone industry, as well as uncertainty stemming from a tumultuous domestic political situation. In the long-term, South Korea must deal with a rapidly aging population, inflexible labor market, dominance of large conglomerates (chaebols), and the heavy reliance on exports, which comprise more than 40% of GDP. South Korea’s low overall unemployment rate masks problems with high youth unemployment, low worker productivity, high labor underutilization, and low female participation in the workforce. The government has tried to implement structural reforms, but continues to face significant headwind from vested interests. Finally, the country could eventually face an unprecedented financial burden in the event the unification of the Korean Peninsula were to occur.
$1.934 trillion (2016 est.)
$1.881 trillion (2015 est.)
$1.83 trillion (2014 est.)
note: data are in 2016 dollars
country comparison to the world: 14
$1.411 trillion (2016 est.)
2.8% (2016 est.)
2.8% (2015 est.)
3.3% (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 105
$37,900 (2016 est.)
$37,100 (2015 est.)
$36,300 (2014 est.)
note: data are in 2016 dollars
country comparison to the world: 46
35.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
35.8% of GDP (2015 est.)
35.3% of GDP (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10
household consumption: 48.8%
government consumption: 15%
investment in fixed capital: 29.3%
investment in inventories: 0.1%
exports of goods and services: 42.2%
imports of goods and services: -35.4% (2016 est.)
agriculture: 2.2%
industry: 38.6%
services: 59.2% (2016 est.)
rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs, fish
electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, steel
3% (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 116
26.24 million (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 25
agriculture: 4.9%
industry: 24.1%
services: 71% (2016 est.)
3.7% (2016 est.)
3.6% (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 38
12.5% (2015 est.)
lowest 10%: 6.8%
highest 10%: 48.5% (2015 est.)
34.1 (2015 est.)
34.1 (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 125
revenues: $297.3 billion
expenditures: $286.3 billion (2016 est.)
21.1% of GDP (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 134
0.8% of GDP (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 62
36.1% of GDP (2016 est.)
35.6% of GDP (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 102
calendar year
1% (2016 est.)
0.7% (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 63
1.25% (31 December 2016 est.)
1.5% (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 119
3.44% (31 December 2016 est.)
3.46% (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 161
$658.7 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
$604.2 billion (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$1.993 trillion (31 December 2016 est.)
$1.917 trillion (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$2.641 trillion (31 December 2016 est.)
$2.427 trillion (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10
$1.305 trillion (31 December 2016 est.)
$1.28 trillion (31 December 2015 est.)
$1.269 trillion (31 December 2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 12
$98.68 billion (2016 est.)
$105.9 billion (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 5
$511.8 billion (2016 est.)
$542.9 billion (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 5
semiconductors, petrochemicals, automobile/auto parts, ships, wireless communication equipment, flat displays, steel, electronics, plastics, computers
China 26%, US 13.3%, Hong Kong 5.8%, Vietnam 5.3%, Japan 4.9% (2015)
$391.3 billion (2016 est.)
$420.6 billion (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10
crude oil/petroleum products, semiconductors, natural gas, coal, steel, computers, wireless communication equipment, automobiles, fine chemicals, textiles
China 20.7%, Japan 10.5%, US 10.1%, Germany 4.8%, Saudi Arabia 4.5% (2015)
$371.1 billion (2016 est.)
$368 billion (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 8
$380.9 billion (2016 est.)
$396.1 billion (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 31
$179.2 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
$168.8 billion (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 32
$348.8 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
$298.6 billion (31 December 2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 22
South Korean won (KRW) per US dollar –
1,167.6 (2016 est.)
1,130.95 (2015 est.)
1,130.95 (2014 est.)
1,052.96 (2013 est.)
1,126.47 (2012 est.)