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Asia Minute: Steeling for a Trade Fight in South Korea

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President Trump says he’ll make a formal announcement this week slapping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Several U.S. trade partners in Asia produce steel, but the impact is likely to hit one regional economy the hardest. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

No country in the Asia Pacific exports more steel to the United States than South Korea. U.S. government figures show the country shipped about 3.2 billion dollars of steel to the U.S. last year.

That’s a slight decline from a year earlier—and only about 3 percent of South Korea’s overall exports to the United States.

The ratings agency Moody’s says the direct impact of tariffs on South Korean steelmakers would be “moderate” while the economic toll on the rest of Asia would be “low.”

Symbolism is another story, and the specifics depend very much on the details of the presidential order—and what exemptions may be granted.

South Korea’s largest steelmaker, Posco, is already laying out its arguments for special treatment. A company spokesman says Posco has set up two companies in the United States as joint ventures—arguing that imported steel used in those operations should be exempt from any tariffs.

Credit Hyundai Motor Company / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

One likely target is steel pipe—which makes up about half of South Korea’s steel exports to the United States. The impact stretches beyond steelmakers—for example, reaching Korean automakers with plants in the U.S.

A spokesman for Hyundai Motor told Bloomberg any new tariffs “could negatively impact our current U.S. production and further expansion.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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