Last month, US President Donald Trump imposed tariff duties ranging from 20 to 50 percent on certain imported products that included large washing machines from South Korea and solar panels from China.
“I am concerned that widening restrictions by the US on our exports, including steel, electronics, solar panels, and washing machines, may take a toll on the exports despite their global competitiveness,” President Moon said on Monday, adding, “I’d like to respond to unreasonable protectionist measures in a confident and stern manner.”
Furthermore, Trump last week threatened to scrap a 2012 free trade deal between Seoul and Washington, which he described as a “disaster” and a deal that needed to be revised.
Seoul responded by saying that it would take the issue to the World Trade Organization.
Beijing, too, has expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the US tariffs imposed with a declared objective of protecting local manufacturers.
The trade frictions between Seoul and Washington come at a time when South Korea has been engaged in a rapprochement with North Korea, a process that has sidelined the US. The new tensions may further push Seoul and Washington apart, potentially on the North Korean issue as well.
Moon urged officials to “actively argue [about] the unfairness” of the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.
The US trade deficit — which Trump has repeatedly vowed to fix — widened even further during his first year in office, up by 12 percent to $566 billion.
The Trump administration last July initiated talks to renegotiate the free trade pact with Seoul, arguing it was lopsided because America’s bilateral trade deficit had allegedly ballooned as a result of it.
Two previous rounds of renegotiations have made little progress, and Seoul’s chief trade negotiator, Kim Hyun-chong, said at the time there was “a long way to go” to remove differences.
The next round of the negotiations is scheduled in Washington next month.