WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump wants to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Thailand, he told the country’s prime minister on Monday in a meeting that marked another sign of warming ties between Washington and Bangkok.
Trump, who has sought to improve U.S. trade ties with a variety of countries since taking office in January, put Thailand in the spotlight when he sat down with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in the Oval Office.
“Our relationship on trade is becoming more important and it’s a great country to trade with,” Trump told the Thai official before reporters. “I think we’re going to try to sell a little bit more to you, if that’s possible.”
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office reported that the U.S. trade deficit with Thailand was $18.9 billion last year, the 11th largest faced by the United States.
The meeting was a sign of improved ties between the United States and Thailand after the relationship cooled when the Thai military took power in a 2014 coup.
Human rights groups had strongly opposed the meeting, seeing it as a reward for an authoritarian leader who has cracked down on opposition and rolled back democratic freedoms.
The Obama administration was deeply critical of the military-led government and refused to extend an invitation to Prayuth to the White House.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Bangkok in August in what was the highest level visit to Thailand by a U.S. official since the military coup.
Prayuth and members of his cabinet will also meet with representatives of Thai businesses in the United States during the three-day visit.
Thailand is often cited as the oldest U.S. ally in Southeast Asia and Washington has been urging the region to do more to cut funding streams to North Korea over its nuclear programme.
Reporting By Steve Holland and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio