S. Korea pledges strong action against USA trade protectionism

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

SOUTH Korea signed a free trade deal with five Central American countries today, even as Seoul and Washington sparred over their existing FTA.

The U.S. automaker announced last week it would shut down a factory in Gunsan, southwest of Seoul, and that it was mulling the fate of its three remaining plants in South Korea.

In return, the Detroit automaker is seeking financial assistance from the South Korean government and is expected to also seek some aid from its traditionally militant unions.

At one time, Korea served as a major export base for GM, supplying a variety of small cars to both North America and Europe, among other markets.

Securing meaningful production volume of a new vehicle model will be a critical factor in GM Korea Co.'s continuing presence in South Korea, industry sources said Tuesday.

Engle, president of GM International, did not elaborate on whether GM's plan for the two new auto models were dependent on government support for the automaker, said Kim Sung-tae who attended the meeting.

Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong signed the pact with economic ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, said a spokesman for the Seoul ministry. GM's South Korean unit produced 519,385 vehicles previous year, compared with 942,805 a decade ago.

South Korea's economy is heavily dependent on worldwide trade, and the Central American pact will help it export more products such as cars, iron and steel, home appliances and textiles to the region, the Trade Ministry statement said.

He added that government officials will reach out to Washington before Trump decides on steel tariffs in mid-April, and strive to minimize the fallout on South Korean businesses.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Monday for a "stern" response to new United States tariffs on the South's exports as concern grew over looming trade restrictions by Washington.

Seoul's inclusion in the list is frustrating since other close allies of the USA such as Canada, Japan and Germany, were excluded from the extra tariff though they are among the top 10 steel exporters.

South Korea was for years a low-priced export hub for GM, producing close to a fifth of its global output at its peak.

From 2014 through 2016, the maker ran up $1.8 billion in net losses in Korea and was anticipating further losses without major changes.

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