UPDATE : 2018.3.22 THU 15:17
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Trade minister to head to U.S. to find ways to ease mounting pressure

South Korea's point man on trade will travel to the United States to find ways to handle demands for a more "balanced flow of goods" amid ongoing talks to renegotiate the allies' bilateral free trade pact, sources in Seoul said Saturday.

Kim Hyun-chong will fly to Washington on Sunday as part of an outreach program to talk directly to U.S. lawmakers, business leaders and government officials, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said.

It said the minister will explain Seoul's stance on trade and on such matters as Washington's move to implement Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

The U.S. commerce ministry recommended imposing tariffs on steel products from exporting countries including South Korea. The world's No. 1 economy recently pushed forward safeguard measures against washing machines and solar cells and modules from abroad that will impact South Korean companies.

The Korea Iron and Steel Association said the country shipped out US$3.2 billion worth of steel products to the U.S. in 2017, significantly more than the $1.3 billion in solar cells and $1.06 billion worth of washers the country exported to the North American country in 2016.

"One of the key reasons for the latest visit is to get South Korea off the list of countries that can be hit with 53 percent tariffs for steel products," a source at the steel association said.

The insider, who did not wish to be identified, stressed that, of the South Korean steel products exported to the U.S., the percentage of Chinese materials used stands at just 2.4 percent, so concerns that the country is being used to indirectly ship steel from China are unfounded.

He conceded, however, that any negotiations on steel will be difficult, even if Kim talks to companies that import the product.

In addition, all eyes will be focused on whether Kim meets with his counterparts to get Washington to reconsider its latest safeguard actions. Seoul has warned that it may take the matter to the World Trade Organization if Washington pursues this course.

Under the recent safeguard measure announced by the United States, a 20 percent tariff will be applied on the first 1.2 million washers imported in the first year and a 50 percent tariff on machines beyond that number. A 30 percent tariff will be imposed on imported solar cells and modules above 2.5 gigawatts in the first year. These measures could directly hurt South Korean exporters.

S. Korea's trade minister, Kim Hyun-chong, speaks at a parliamentary session in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2018. (Yonhap)

The policymaker, meanwhile, is forecast to hold talks on the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) currently being renegotiated. The third round of talks is set to be held in the U.S. next month.

"Talks have been ongoing, but this time more effort will be made to better outline our stance on this issue," an government official said.

Seoul is expected to provide more data and reasoning to convince Washington that the FTA that went into effect in March 2012 benefits both sides, not just South Korea.

The two countries kicked off the renegotiation after President Donald Trump blasted the pact as a bad deal that cost American jobs. (Yonhap)

Kim Jung-mi  edt@koreapost.com

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