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Korea grumbles about Trump’s protectionist acts

Jan 29,2018
The Korean government is protesting U.S. protectionist moves that started with higher tariffs on solar panels and washing machines recently approved by U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Seoul will formally protest in an official petition to the World Trade Organization early next month.

At a WTO trade ministers’ meeting in Davos, Switzerland on Saturday, Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong said “disguised protectionism” will hurt consumers around the world.

“Recent import regulations such as antidumping measures and safeguards are used as tools of trade protectionism,” said Kim. “There is a need to strengthen the conflict resolving mechanism, which is the crown jewel of the WTO, in order to continuously develop a multi-trade system.”

U.S. President Donald J. Trump last week approved punitive duties of up to 30 percent on imported solar panels and up to 50 percent on washing machines. It was the first so-called safeguard measure a U.S. president has signed since George W. Bush signed one in 2001 on steel imports.

Korea is estimated to have sold $1.3 billion worth of solar panels and fuel cells and $1.06 billion worth of washing machines in the United States in 2016.

Once the Korean government files a petition, the two countries will be given 30 days to start negotiations before the WTO is involved. If the two countries fail to reach an agreement, the Korean government can ask the WTO to create a panel to resolve the issue.

However, among the 11 petitions filed by the Korean government in the past, only one case led to the creation of a panel. That involved exports to the United States of color TVs in 1997.

Washington is expected to accelerate protectionist moves later this year.

On Sunday, the Bank of Korea released a study warning about the Trump administration’s protectionist moves this year and how they may affect the Korean economy, which the government is hoping will grow at 3 percent.

The report warned that while the U.S. government did not label China a currency manipulator or impose specific trade restrictions last year, the situation is likely to change particularly considering that U.S. mid-term elections are coming in November.

Trump reasserted his “America First” policy at the World Economic Forum in Davos over the weekend.

It was the first visit of a U.S. president to the forum in Switzerland in almost two decades. The last serving U.S. president to visit was Bill Clinton in 2000.

In a speech Trump said America First does not mean America alone, and urged other countries to invest and expand trade with the United States.

“I’m here to deliver a simple message - there has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States. America is open for business and we are competitive once again,” Trump said.

But, he continued, “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices. “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others,” Trump said.

At the same forum, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hinted “more to come,” on trade regulations while Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that he doesn’t considers the recent safeguards as “trade protectionism,” saying the government was simply adhering to “rules.”


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]