ROK-US Trade Relations Show Signs of Tension

Article excerpt

With the launch of the Bush administration, there are simmering signs that Korea and the United States might clash over such trade issues as steel, semiconductor chips and automobiles as well as intellectual property rights (IPR) protection policy.

The Korea International Trade Association (KITA) report said the situation is potentially more volatile in the current environment than at any other time over the past few years.

In particular, the mounting trade deficit, a slowing U.S. economy and fears of recession, and what appears to be growing contempt in the United States for the WTO dispute settlement process are catalysts for more aggressive attitudes on trade policy in the United States.

``Korea could be affected both directly and indirectly by developments, depending on the issue,'' according to the report.

Following is the first of two articles shedding light on delicate bilateral trade issues which were contained in the KITA report.

Looking specifically at Korea, development in four key sectors will produce many of the major issues with respect to trade between the United States and Korea this year. These sectors include steel, semiconductors, automobiles and intellectual property.

Steel

The steel trade agenda in 2001 will continue where it left off at the end of 2000. It may have the most immediate impact on Korean interests, reaching beyond trade in steel, given the emphasis on broader changes to U.S. trade law. It is important to remember that changes to U.S. trade laws, even if triggered by the steel industry, apply to all sectors. Given the broader impact, it is also why the steel industry's agenda will be supported by other interests to one degree or another, such as the U.S.semiconductor and automobile industries.

In general, there will be more steel trade cases, and the domestic industry will continue to lobby Congress and the Administration for import relief and changes in U.S. trade law. On Capital Hill, the labor unions continue to hold the initiative over the major integrated steel mills. In 1999 this proved to be a major setback, because the integrated steel imports undercut what at the time had been one of the best opportunities for trade law legislation since 1994. With the recent bankruptcies of Wheeling Pittsburgh and LTV, and the tenuous financial condition of Bethlehem Steel and Weirton Steel, the integrated steel mills are far more desperate and less calculating in their agenda. A unified front by labor and the steel mills on steel imports presents a significantly greater challenge for free trade interests trying to hold back damaging pieces of trade law legislation. …