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Opposing protectionism

Mar 03,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would impose universal tariffs of 25 percent on all steel and 10 percent of all aluminum imports. For these sweeping tariffs on imports, he invoked the hardly-used Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, designed to protect local industries instead of country-specific duties that are as high as 53 percent on Korea and other big steel exporters.

The 25 percent tariff is much better than a 53 percent levy, but Korean steel exports, the seventh biggest export item to the United States, could nevertheless be hurt. Korea’s steel exports to the United States surged 94.5 percent on-year to $25 million last year.

Earlier this year, Washington also slapped safeguard measures that push up the maximum import tariffs on residential washers and solar panels to 50 percent. The country has begun to act out protectionist trade policies in line with Trump’s “America First” campaign slogan.
Last year’s trade data showed that mainstay shipments to the United States all fell sharply. Exports of automobiles fell 6.4 percent, smartphones and wireless equipment 17.4 percent and automobile parts 16.1 percent.

Surplus in trade with the United States, based on customs clearance, sank 22.7 percent to $17.97 billion. Washington’s trade offensive is worsening, despite shriveling exports and a surplus in U.S trade. We must maintain free global trade practices and take strong action against excessive protectionist measures. Suits with the World Trade Organization (WTO) often take a long time and offer little financial relief.

But the accused state earns the stigma of being unfair. Without timely action, Korea could be seen as an easy target in international trade. Seoul therefore should take belated WTO action against China for its economic retaliations over the installment of a U.S. antimissile system so that it no longer takes Korea for granted.

The United States indicated that it could re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Washington formerly created with Tokyo. Offering to join the TPP could help Korea in negotiations to revise the bilateral free trade agreement.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 3, Page 26