South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Monday for a “stern” response to new US tariffs on the South’s exports as concern grew over looming trade restrictions by Washington.
US President Donald Trump last week threatened retaliatory action against China and South Korea and vowed to revise or scrap a 2012 free trade deal with the South, which he described as a “disaster”.
Trump also put his “America First” doctrine into action last month by imposing duties of 20 to 50 per cent on large washing machines made in nations including the South, as well as tariffs on solar panels imported from China and elsewhere.
Seoul has said it would take the issue to the World Trade Organization while Beijing expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the move, adopted to protect US manufacturers.
The trade frictions have strained ties at a time when Seoul and Washington are seeking to present a united front against North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Moon, at a meeting with aides, expressed concern over “intensifying protectionism” that may take a toll on the Souths export-reliant economy – also the world’s 11th largest.
“I am concerned that widening restrictions by the US on our exports, including steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, may take a toll on the exports despite their global competitiveness,” he said.
“I’d like (officials) to respond to unreasonable protectionist measures in a confident and stern manner by… reviewing whether the measures violate the current Korea-US free trade pact,” he said.
Moon also urged officials to “actively argue the unfairness” of the tariffs when renegotiating the bilateral free trade deal.
Moon’s comments also came days after the US Commerce Department recommended hefty new tariffs on steel imports from countries including the South.
The US trade deficit – which Trump has vowed repeatedly to fix – widened even further during his first year in office, up 12 per cent to USD 566 billion.
The Trump administration last July initiated talks to renegotiate the free trade pact with Seoul, arguing it was lopsided because America’s bilateral trade deficit had ballooned under it.
Two previous rounds of talks made little progress and Seoul’s chief trade negotiator Kim Hyun-chong said at the time there was “a long way to go”.
The next round of negotiations is scheduled in Washington next month.