S Korea makes concessions to avoid U.S. steel tariffs

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong announced Monday that the U.S. and South Korea have agreed to amend the six-year-old Korea-U.S.

The two countries reached an agreement "in principle" on the trade deal, the South Korean trade ministry said in a statement yesterday.

Trump's proposed tariffs set off jostling among USA allies and trading partners including Australia, the European Union and Japan, as well as South Korea, to win exemptions.

Asian shares steadied yesterday, stemming last week's hefty losses after Mr Trump's action on steel and aluminium, and his plans to impose tariffs on up to US$60 billion (S$78.7 billion) in Chinese goods.

South Korea's trade surplus with the United States was about US$18 billion past year, down from US$23 billion in 2016, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

According to industry sources, steel pipe exports from South Korea to the United States are estimated to decrease by US$800 million a year given that the export volume totaled US$1.6 billion last year.

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In exchange for the exemption, South Korea will open its markets to USA -manufactured autos, expanding the number of cars it imports per manufacturer to 50,000, from 25,000.

The two countries also discussed changing the wording of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement and trade remedies, and Korea said it will review a request from the U.S. for Seoul to offer equal incentives to global pharmaceutical companies in developing new medicines.

The revisions set a "bad pre-cedent", said law professor Choi Won Mog of Ewha Womans University. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), a trade agreement President Donald Trump has long criticized as a "horrible" deal.

Washington also exempted Seoul from additional 25% tariffs on steel which the USA imposed to most of nations, except Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

Kim said on Monday that amendments were agreed to, although he did not elaborate except to state that South Korea made no concessions on its agriculture markets and there were no changes to existing tariffs.

South Korea is not allowed to export steel products exceeding that quota to the USA, a ministry official told the news agency.

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The U.S. meanwhile extended grace period for non-tariffs on South Korean pickup trucks by additional 20 years to 2040.

Seoul is the third-largest steel exporter to Washington.

"We are going to proceed with our tariffs".

All three major USA automakers - General Motors, Chrysler, Ford - each shipped fewer than 10,000 vehicles to South Korea previous year, Kim said, adding: "This is an important fact".

"I don't see a high chance of automakers expanding USA imports", he said. It was up from 25,000 vehicles under the current deal.

"South Korea will reduce the amount of steel that they send into the United States as a part of this".

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"This is not a free trade, but a managed trade".


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