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(LEAD) Seoul calls for exemption from U.S. auto duties in Washington

All Headlines 12:13 April 14, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS meetings with ratings agencies in paras 6-12)

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's finance minister called on the United States to exempt it from new duties on imported vehicles at meetings of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors held in Washington last week, the ministry said Sunday.

Hong Nam-ki, the minister of economy and finance, made the request to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the sidelines of the annual international conferences on the global economy and other issues.

Mnuchin said he fully understands what the Korean minister requested from the U.S. in terms of auto import tariffs and expressed hope that the issue will be resolved without difficulty, though no decision on the issue has yet been made, the finance ministry said.

The U.S. Commerce Department submitted a report on the impact on the car imports to President Donald Trump in February. The report was on whether or not to impose new duties on imported vehicles under a national security rationale.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to impose tariffs on imported vehicles and has 90 days to review the Commerce Department report.

In this photo taken April 13, 2019, (U.S. time) and provided by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, South Korea's Minister of Economy and Finance Hong Nam-ki (R) shakes hands with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before a meeting at the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington D.C. (Yonhap)

Separately, Hong called on the world's three major credit ratings agencies -- Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings -- to reflect eased geopolitical tension on the Korean peninsula when they adjust Korea's sovereign rating.

"In his meetings with the ratings agencies, Hong underlined that (three rounds of) summit talks between South and North Korea and (two rounds of) summit talks between the United States and North Korea have paved the way for denuclearization on the peninsula," the finance ministry said.

He briefed them on the Korean government's economic policies on achieving growth of 2.6 percent to 2.7 percent this year amid external uncertainties and slowing demand for semiconductors.

But the minister said he expected Korean exports will gradually improve on recovering demand for semiconductors in the second half.

"The Seoul government is expanding fiscal investment to stimulate the economy and is easing regulations to encourage companies to make investments. It hopes to see a trade deal between the U.S. and China as it could have direct and indirect impacts on Korean exports," Hong was quoted as saying by the ministry.

Asked about the inter-Korean economic cooperation and minimum wages, Hong said the government is making preparations in an orderly and calm manner and a revision bill on the minimum wage is under deliberation at the National Assembly that will slow down the pace of minimum wage hikes.

The minimum wage has increased by 30 percent since the Moon Jae-in government took office in May 2017. Moon's administration plans to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won (US$8.90) by 2020, but the rapid increase has sparked a strong backlash from businesses.


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