Trade minister heads to U.S. to dispute tariffs

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Trade minister heads to U.S. to dispute tariffs

Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong on Tuesday set out on his second trip in a week to Washington to meet with government officials and lawmakers to get Seoul exempted from proposed steel product tariffs announced by the United States.

His trip comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is set to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports this week, a move certain to affect Korean steel producers.

During the four-day visit, Kim plans to meet senior policymakers, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, as part of outreach efforts to help ease toughening import restrictions on Korean goods, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said.

Last week, Kim met with Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as lawmakers and industry people to discuss trade issues.

While major U.S. trade partners like Canada, China and the European Union have threatened to take retaliatory actions, the Korean government has remained cautious over its next move amid ongoing negotiations to amend the free trade agreement with the world’s largest economy.

During last week’s meetings, Kim explained that Korea’s steel exports to the United States have declined compared with the peak year and made clear that Korea’s imports of Chinese steel do not target the U.S. market, his office said.

Among Korean steel exports to the United States, a mere 2.4 percent use Chinese materials. Korea’s imports of Chinese steel also fell 21 percent in 2017 compared with a year ago, according to the trade ministry.

Kim also said the sweeping import tariffs would also not only hit steel exporters but also American industries in need of steel, such as auto, construction and aerospace, as well as American consumers.

As part of outreach efforts, Paik Un-gyu, minister of trade, industry and energy, on Monday sent a letter to Ross to ask the United States to exclude South Korea from the steel tariffs and step up talks to resolve the impending trade issues between the two nations, his office said.

Korean policymakers and industry officials have stepped up their efforts over the past week to minimize the fallout from the heavy duty’s impact on the local steel industry, but there seems a slim chance of getting the exemption from the steel duties.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Sunday signaled Trump is leaning toward a no-exceptions-for-anyone attitude. Trump adviser Peter Navarro also said no countries will be excluded, but some industries could get exemptions.

The proposed steel duty is the latest in a series of import restrictions by the Trump administration, including safeguard duties on Korean washers and solar panels imposed earlier this year.

Korea shipped 3.6 million tons of steel products to the United States last year, becoming the No. 3 steel exporter after Canada and Brazil, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Industry officials say the new duties, in addition to the incumbent heavy tariffs, will sharply raise prices of Korean exports, hurting their price competitiveness against American manufacturers.

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