January 31, 2018 / 2:06 AM / 10 months ago

South Korea to raise safeguard issues during trade talks with U.S.: South Korean official

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea said on Wednesday it plans to raise safeguard issues during talks with the United States to revise a bilateral trade deal following Washington’s decision to slap steep tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels.

Experts say safeguard issues could toughen the outlook for the talks, which could risk alienating Seoul and Washington in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat.

“Trade remedies are an important issue to us. We plan to bring up the issue,” said Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea’s deputy minister for free trade agreement negotiations, referring to safeguard issues.

“We will put the utmost priority on national interests during negotiations,” she told reporters ahead of the second round of talks that began in Seoul on Wednesday.

She said autos and an investor-state dispute mechanism were also expected to be put on the table, without elaborating.

Seoul said it would complain to the World Trade Organization after U.S. President Donald Trump slapped steep tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels earlier this month, describing the move as “excessive”.

The safeguard issue, a sensitive area for Washington, would “complicate” the outlook for the bilateral talks, said Wendy Cutler, a former chief negotiator on the bilateral deal that was first signed in 2007.

She said Seoul pushed hard during the original talks to address anti-dumping and safeguard issues but did not succeed.

“My advice would be you’re not going to succeed in that area. I think the same way Korea does not want to discuss agriculture, the U.S. is not going to discuss trade remedies,” Cutler told Reuters.

She said the priority for U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was to use trade remedy laws to act against countries that are dumping or subsidizing the imports they are selling in the United States.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Michael Beeman, who is representing the U.S. during the trade talks, did not answer questions from Reuters.

The talks to revise the almost 6-year-old trade deal started in Washington earlier this month after Trump threatened to scrap the “horrible” deal that has increased the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea. The second round will continue on Thursday.

The United States wants to give U.S. automakers better access to the South Korea market while maintaining its high tariffs on pickup truck imports from South Korea, sources have said.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Paul Tait

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