WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. Republican trade lawmaker on Wednesday questioned the Trump administration's plans to renegotiate a trade deal with U.S. ally South Korea, as well as the White House's focus on bilateral trade deals.
"I was a little surprised by the announcement on Korea by the president, mainly because that agreement's worked well for us," Representative Kevin Brady told Reuters in an interview.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office notified South Korea last week of its intent to negotiate amendments to the pact, calling for talks to start in August. Republican President Donald Trump said in April he planned to renegotiate or terminate what he called a "horrible" trade deal.
Since the pact, known as KORUS, went into effect in 2012, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea has more than doubled to nearly $28 billion last year.
Brady, who chairs the trade- and tax-focused Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, said the United States should be "aggressively stepping into the Asia-Pacific market."
"That's not an easy task if you're going to go at trade country-by-country ... This is a question of, do we want American trade values in the world or do we want China's trade values?" Brady said.
Three days after taking office in January, Trump officially withdrew the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, keeping an election campaign promise and emphasizing a preference for bilateral trade deals.
Some critics of that move have said it opened a trade policy vacuum in Asia that China would move to fill.
"Clearly, this administration believes it can achieve more in the bilaterals. They deserve an opportunity to prove that's the case," Brady said. "I think regional agreements, multilateral, work because you can set standards across a broad number of countries."
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Frances Kerry)