(ATTN: UPDATES with U.S. reaction and comments by finance minister in paras 3, 10; ADDS graphics)
SEJONG, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's trade minister has said Seoul needs to take into account its sensitive agriculture industry in deciding whether to maintain developing country status.
Yoo Myung-hee conveyed South Korea's stance in meetings with Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday (local time).
The U.S. has told Yoo that it understands South Korea's position, said a South Korean official who is familiar with the talks. He asked not be identified, citing policy.
The meetings came days before South Korea makes a crucial decision on whether to stick to its special and differential treatment under the World Trade Organization.
South Korea has kept its developing country status since 1995 to protect its sensitive agriculture industry, especially rice.
Trump has said if no substantial progress is made in overhauling the rules of the Geneva-based trade body by mid-October, the U.S. will no longer treat any WTO member that Washington says is not a developing country as one.
The U.S. has proposed that the WTO strip countries of developing country status if they meet certain criteria -- being members of the Group of 20 advanced economies, being members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), being high-income countries as classified by the World Bank and taking up at least 0.5 percent of total global trade.
South Korea meets all four of the criteria, which could undermine its efforts to maintain its status.
Currently, South Korea imposes a 513 percent tariff on imported rice for quantities outside the quota of 409,000 tons of annual rice imports from the U.S. and four other countries under the system of tariff-rate quotas meant to provide minimum market access.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the government will come up with countermeasures on the agricultural sector over the possible dropping of developing country status.
Yoo also called for an exemption from U.S. tariffs on South Korean automobiles, given reciprocal trade and investment between the two sides and the revised bilateral free trade deal that went into effect in January.
Trump is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported autos and parts for reasons of national security as defined in Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.
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