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South Korea to consider WTO complaint over US steel tariffs

[SEOUL] The US' third-biggest steel supplier South Korea will ask Washington for an exemption from President Donald Trump's new tariffs and consider filing a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) if it is refused, Seoul said Friday.

Mr Trump imposed steep tariffs of 25 per cent on foreign steel and 10 per cent on aluminium Thursday, drawing sharp protests from allies at home and abroad amid fears of a global trade war.

South Korean trade minister Paik Un Gyu expressed his regret at the move in a meeting with steel executives, saying: "If this action takes effect, it would inevitably deal a serious blow to South Korea's steel exports to the US."

The South is a treaty ally of the US, which has 28,500 troops stationed in the country to protect it from the nuclear-armed North, but has found itself on the receiving end of Mr Trump's "America First" economic agenda.

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A free trade agreement between the two is being renegotiated at Washington's behest, and talks are currently taking place in Hawaii on cost-sharing for the US military presence, after Mr Trump said on the campaign trail that Seoul should pay more.

The trade ministry will seek consultations with the US Trade Representative at an early date to ask for reduced or no tariffs on the country's steel products, it said in a statement.

If it is unsuccessful, it will "actively consider" filing a complaint with the WTO in cooperation with other countries, it added.

Other nations have condemned Mr Trump's decision, with China, the world's second-largest economy, calling it a "serious attack" on the global trading system.

The Hyundai Research Institute said in a report Friday that 25 per cent tariffs would lead to a 22 per cent cut in South Korean steel exports to the US - or almost US$1 billion of the nearly US$4 billion-worth of steel the South shipped to the US last year.

South Korea ranks third among steel suppliers to the US after Canada and Brazil.