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Seoul vows to combat U.S. steel tariffs robustly

Gov’t ends ‘two-track’ approach to economic, security controversies
Mar 13,2018
Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said the government will use all channels - diplomatic, national security and trade - to convince Washington to exempt Korean steel from 25 percent tariffs.

Additionally, Kim said Korea will decide within the first half of this year whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a bolstering for its trade amid growing tensions with Washington over protectionism.

“The government plans on utilizing all possible channels and fully counter the tariffs imposed by the U.S. government,” Kim said on Monday during a government meeting.

“We have already sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to actively argue why Korean steel should be exempted.”

Kim stressed in the letter that tariffs imposed on Korean steel could weaken the alliance between the two countries and that Korean steel is no threat to U.S. national security and its economy.

The U.S. Commerce Department recommended new tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from 12 nations in a so-called Section 232 investigation, citing risks to national security.

Kim said Korea’s export to the United States have been shrinking and Korean steel companies have been increasing investments in the United States. The amount of China-made steel used in Korean steel products exported to the United States only accounts for 2.4 percent, down from 5.8 percent in 2014.

“We plan to actively express our position while working diplomatic, national security and trade channels,” the Finance Minister added.

Kim will meet Mnuchin during a G-20 finance ministers’ meeting in Buenos Aires next week. Trade Minister Paik Un-gyu will meet American officials at a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade ministers’ meeting in New Delhi also next week.

Kim also said the government will be looking into joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which consists of 11 countries excluding the United States.

“The government will be closely monitoring other members including Japan, Australia and Mexico and will draw up a conclusion on whether to join or not within the first half,” Kim said.

Kim said Korea’s bilateral free trade agreement with the United States, which celebrates its sixth anniversary on March 15, has contributed a lot to relations between the two countries.

But he noted the need to expand economic cooperation with other countries to show that the Korean economy is not easily threatened by “external” trade conflicts.

He cited last Friday’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates to expand economic cooperation.

“We will shape our [economic] policies [expanding] north and south while actively finding new markets in the Middle East and South America,” he said.

Usually, Seoul tries to approach conflicts by separating economics and politics, as it tried to do with China’s economic retaliations for the deployment of an American missile defense system. It calls that a “two-track” approach to disagreements.

Until last month, the government tried to keep the military alliance with the United States and trade issues separate.

After President Moon Jae-in ordered his cabinet to look into all possible reactions, including filing an official complaint at the WTO against “unfair” U.S. trade barriers and looking into a possible violation of the bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries, there has been speculation that the alliance was being weakened.

Blue House economic adviser Hong Jang-pyo elaborated on Moon’s comments saying that protesting the steel tariffs and other trade barriers imposed by the Trump administration at the WTO shouldn’t be considered “unfriendly” actions but rather a two-track approach that separates trade and the alliance.

“The WTO is the most realistic tool in solving conflicts between countries without friction,” Hong said last month.

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