UPDATE : 2019.11.14 THU 14:26
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U.S. to take into account S. Korea's position over possible auto tariff

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said Washington will fully take into account South Korea's position on possible auto tariffs, South Korea's finance ministry said Friday.

Mnuchin made the remarks in Washington on Thursday (local time) during a meeting with South Korean Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, who called for an exemption from U.S. tariffs on South Korean automobiles, according to the ministry.

South Korean Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki (L) shakes hands with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ahead of their talks at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington on Oct. 17, 2019, in this provided by the finance ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Hong is in Washington for the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors' meeting, as well as meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In December, Hong made a similar request to Mnuchin over possible auto tariffs during their phone conversation.

South Korea is worried about potential U.S. tariffs on South Korean automobiles, based on Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, on national security grounds.

South Korea has made concessions on automobiles in the revised bilateral free trade deal that went into effect earlier this year, but U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to slap the Section 232 tariffs on automobiles on national security grounds.

Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. official who negotiated the original free trade deal with South Korea in 2007, has said it is inconceivable that Trump will rule against South Korea as Seoul has made concessions in the free trade deal and is a strong ally of Washington.

The U.S. has conducted 16 investigations, mostly into oil imports, under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act since 1962. Most of the probes determined that the imports posed little threat.

Also Thursday, Hong called for a quick diplomatic resolution of a trade row between South Korea and Japan, saying that Japan's export curbs could disrupt global supply chains for materials and have negative implications for the global economy.

Mnuchin expressed hope that South Korea and Japan can quickly put their economic cooperation back on track.

Last week, South Korea and Japan failed to reach an agreement in their first bilateral talks in Geneva in connection with Seoul's complaint with the World Trade Organization over Tokyo's export restrictions.

The talks are part of a dispute settlement process under WTO rules. The two sides agreed to meet again for additional talks.

In July, Tokyo imposed tighter regulations on exports to Seoul of three materials -- resist, etching gas and fluorinated polyimide -- that are critical for the production of semiconductors and flexible displays.

Japan later removed South Korea from its list of trusted trading partners in retaliation against last year's South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Separately, Mnuchin praised South Korea for its efforts to improve transparency on its foreign exchange policy.

In May, the U.S. Treasury Department kept South Korea on a list of countries to monitor for currency practices but hinted at its possible removal in the next reporting period.

Munuchin said South Korea met only one of the three criteria for a currency manipulator and could be removed from the monitoring list if it remains so in the next six-month period.

Under a revised set of criteria, a trading partner is labeled a currency manipulator if it has a bilateral trade surplus with the U.S. of at least US$20 billion, a current account surplus of at least 2 percent of gross domestic product and "persistent, one-sided intervention" in foreign exchange markets.

In the May report, South Korea met only one condition -- a material current account surplus of 4.7 percent of GDP in 2018.

The U.S. is set to announce its semiannual report this month on a list of countries to monitor for currency practices.

Hong and Mnuchin also signed the first bilateral memorandum of understanding on infrastructure that calls for, among other things, mutual investment and cooperation in winning joint projects in Latin America and Southeast Asia. (Yonhap)

Cho kyung-hee  edt@koreapost.com

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