Trade negotiator crosses fingers on new U.S. auto tariffs

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Trade negotiator crosses fingers on new U.S. auto tariffs

Korea’s chief trade negotiator expressed cautious optimism that the United States won’t put new tariffs on Korean car import Wednesday, a week after he returned from meetings with U.S. officials.

In a press meeting at the Sejong Government Complex, Minister for Trade Kim Hyun-chong said his U.S. counterparts were receptive of Korea’s position against tariffs on its cars.

He said he explained such measures would have no justification or value to the United States.

The U.S. administration is currently considering auto tariffs in line with its policy to protect local industries.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is scheduled to submit a report on imposing tariffs on the industry by Feb. 17. The report, under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, assesses whether measures against imports are needed on grounds of “national security.” A decision will then be made by U.S. President Donald Trump within 90 days of its submission.

“The response from U.S. legislative and administrative officials was not bad,” said Kim. “[They] highly regarded Korea’s efforts to improve trade and cooperation between the two countries.”

The minister emphasized that the final call depends on the U.S. president.

“U.S. officials and lawmakers were careful as the decision for Section 232 measures lies with President Trump,” added Kim.

During his trip to the United States from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, the minister met with senior U.S. officials, such as the Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. He highlighted the decreasing trade deficit between the two countries and new auto agreements that went into effect earlier this year, that were meant to address U.S. concerns.

The U.S. trade deficit with Korea decreased by 22 percent in the first 10 months of last year compared to the previous year, thanks to Korean imports of U.S. energy and agricultural goods.

In a revised free trade agreement between the two countries, Korea agreed to increase a quota for the number of U.S. car imports that only comply with U.S. safety standards to 50,000 from 25,000 - although fewer than the quota limit are imported every year - and agreed that U.S. tariffs on pick-up trucks could be extended until 2041.

Kim warned that new tariffs on Korean cars to the United States could have a major impact as they are responsible for 14 percent of the country’s manufacturing by value.

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