South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong will embark on his third trip to Washington, D.C. in less than a month to make a last-ditch effort to get Seoul exempted from proposed steel product tariffs by the United States, his office said Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday signed off on a plan to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports, giving temporary exemptions for Canada and Mexico as well as Australia.
Seoul has repeatedly asked the Trump administration to take it off the list of countries that will be slapped with steep tariffs, citing close economic and security ties, but it was not included in the initial list of exemptions.
South Korea's trade ministry said it will continue to press its case for exemptions from duties through negotiations with senior American policymakers and trade officials in the coming weeks. The duties will go into effect late next week, 15 days after the signing.
Korean officials say they will make it clear that South Korea has been reducing its steel production to address the global supply glut and is not serving as a backdoor for Chinese steel to reach U.S. markets.
Among Korean steel exports to the U.S., a mere 2.4 percent use Chinese materials. South Korea's imports of Chinese steel also fell 21 percent in 2017 compared with a year ago, according to the trade ministry.
During the past three weeks, Kim met with Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as lawmakers and industry people, to discuss trade issues.
The U.S. Trade Representative will handle negotiations with countries seeking an exemption, while the U.S. Commerce Department will review requests for exclusion of specific products if the country lacks sufficient domestic capacity or for national security considerations.
Despite the military and economic alliance with the U.S., South Korea is in a more difficult situation than other nations due to its high volume of steel imports from China, which is blamed for flooding the global market with cheap products.
The latest import restriction comes at a sensitive time as the two nations have been under negotiations to revamp the six-year free trade agreement. The two sides are currently arranging the schedule for the third round of talks.
The proposed steel duty is the latest in a series of import restrictions by the Trump administration, including safeguard duties on Korean washers and solar panels imposed earlier this year.
South Korea shipped 3.6 million tons of steel products to the U.S. last year, becoming the No. 3 steel exporter after Canada and Brazil, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. (Yonhap News)