Hyundai Motor applies for Amcham membership

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Hyundai Motor applies for Amcham membership

Hyundai Motor is rejoining the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea ahead of any demands by the protectionist administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We sent the official application last month,” a spokesperson from Hyundai Motor said Thursday, “We are still in the joining process, official membership has not been granted yet.”

The last time Korea’s largest automaker joined Amcham was in 2008 when negotiations for a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement were ongoing. That membership lasted a year.

Trump has pinpointed the auto industry as a cause of trade imbalances. If the new administration pushes forward proposals such as a border tax on cars produced in Mexico or other countries, Hyundai and its sister company Kia Motors’ business, which rely heavily on sales in the U.S., will suffer.

The cars Hyundai and Kia sell in America are made in plants in Korea, the U.S. and Mexico.

According to data from the Korea International Trade Association, the No.1 export item from Korea to the U.S. last year was cars, worth $16.02 billion, followed by smartphones.

Joining Amcham can be a way of expanding communication channels with U.S. officials, industry insiders say. Even when Hyundai Motor was not an official member of the chamber, it participated in events held by the chamber to communicate with U.S. member companies and officials. In 2014, when President Barack Obama visited Korea, he participated in a morning briefing held by the chamber. Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo was invited.

“In addition to [roughly 800 U.S. companies we have as members] Korean institutions come to us for some help and perspectives on the best way to bridge between the United States and Korea,” Amcham chairman James Kim said earlier in the year in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

Apart from joining Amcham, Hyundai Motor announced plans to invest $3.1 billion in the U.S. over five years at a press briefing on Jan. 17, just ahead of Trump’s inauguration. Considering that the automaker invested roughly $2.1 billion over the last five years, the new plan is a 50 percent increase. Trump has been stressing the importance of reviving U.S. jobs, which led the automaker to ponder whether to add new production capacity in the country.

Hyundai is not the only company defensively positioning itself after Trump’s inauguration.

Samsung Electronics is reviewing plans to expand a factory of Dacor, a Los Angeles-based high-end home appliance maker it acquired last year. LG Electronics is also reviewing plans to build a home appliances production facility in Tennessee. “While labor costs in the U.S. remain a risk for the companies, we have no option but to consider possible retaliation by the Trump administration,” a source from home appliances industry said.

SK E&S, an energy subsidiary of SK Group, began generating energy from shale gas imported from U.S. at its factory in Paju, Gyeonggi, starting Wednesday. The move was largely influenced by Trump’s efforts to boost American oil and gas drilling and coal mining. In a similar step, SK Innovation recently moved key employees from its petroleum business to Houston to make it the headquarters for the division.

“By directly communicating with local companies in the U.S., we want to turn crisis into opportunity,” a spokesperson from SK Innovation said.

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