Deputy Minister for Trade Kang Sung-chun from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy talks about the U.S.’s recent move to impose a selective tariff increase on steel goods originating in 12 countries, including Korea, during a press briefing at the Government Complex Seoul on Feb. 19. (Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy)

The Korean government has affirmed that it will deal firmly and resolutely with U.S. protectionist measures that impose unreasonable tariffs on Korean steel products. The government is even considering taking the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO), it said.

Deputy Minister for Trade Kang Sung-chun from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy explained on Feb. 19 in a press briefing that the key would be whether or not Washington’s move cites "danger to national security" corresponding to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Article 21, that covers national security exceptions. 

“Selectively imposing trade restrictions would not be applicable to the exception specified in GATT. The government would strongly raise questions about such discriminatory actions against a selective group of countries,” the deputy minister said.

On Feb. 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report titled “The effect of imports of steel on national security.” The report indicates three restrictions: a global tariff of at least 24 percent on all steel imports from all countries; a tariff of at least 53 percent on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam), with a quota determined product-by-product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100 percent of their 2017 exports to the U.S.; and, lastly, a quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63 percent of each country’s 2017 exports to the U.S.

The deputy minister stated that, “These restrictions would deal a blow to Korea's steel pipe industry. We will actively reach out to politicians and industries in Washington and map concrete measures to deal with the issue, before a decision is finally made.” 

President Moon Jae-in, too, called for his government to implement “firm and resolute responses” against Washington’s unfair treatment of Korean companies, during a meeting with his top advisers earlier in the day. 

“I’m concerned about the potential impact on exports from U.S. protectionist measures that target Korean steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, despite our internationally renowned economic competitiveness,” said the president. “We’ll deal with this illogical and irrational protectionism firmly and resolutely by taking the issue to the WTO and reviewing possible violations of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.”