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In trade row, Korea asks for help

Minister travels to Washington to stress that many will be hurt
July 10,2019
The Korean government is asking for U.S. help in the intensifying trade conflict with Japan.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Tuesday, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee will travel to the United States next week with the message that the trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo will affect major U.S. tech companies including Apple and Google. Korean companies are major suppliers of semiconductors and displays for iPhones and other mobile devices.

On Monday, Yoo told reporters that the government is looking into various ways to deal with the problem, including international cooperation. She refrained from elaborating, saying, “I would like to reserve what I say as our counterparts could prepare if they know [our plan].”

Kim Hee-sang, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for bilateral economic affairs, is scheduled to meet with Roland de Marcellus, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international finance and development, in Washington on Thursday. Kim is expected to ask the United States for assistance with the row.

Japan has already put export restrictions on three key materials - fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresists - needed in the production of semiconductors and smartphones. As Japan considers additional restrictions, Korea is drawing up a complaint for the World Trade Organization and trying to rally international support.

President Moon Jae-in, who was silent for days after Japan announced its plans a week ago, said Monday that the Korean government has no choice but to take counteractions if Tokyo’s export restrictions hurt Korean companies.

Deputy Prime Minister of Economics and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Monday that Japan’s restrictions go against WTO rules, and stressed that the actions will hurt Japanese companies too and have a negative impact on the global economy.

“[The government] will continue to actively counter the situation through various angles including close communication and mutual cooperation with Korean companies and the international community,” Hong said.

The finance minister also hinted that the government will campaign against the export restrictions in international forums including Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and International Monetary Fund meetings in the second half of the year.

U.S. hardware companies - including Apple, Qualcomm, Intel and HP, as well as software developers such as Facebook, Amazon and Google - are major customers of Korean semiconductor companies.

As of last year, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix jointly hold the largest share in the global market for semiconductors of over 70 percent. Samsung accounts for more than 40 percent and SK Hynix close to 30 percent. Additionally, the combined market share of these two Korean companies for NAND flash chips is more than 45 percent.

Any delay in supplies from them would affect the Korean companies but also their major U.S. customers.

Samsung Display dominates the global small OLED panel market with a nearly 90-percent market share. These panels are not used only in smartphones but also in laptops and other digital gadgets.

One of Samsung Display’s biggest customers is Apple.

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