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South Korea: Stocks skid to three-week low on US trade worries, won steady

[SEOUL] South Korean shares slipped to a three-week intraday low on Friday as President Donald Trump's plan to slap heavy tariffs on steel products hit materials stocks and sparked deeper fears about a worsening global trade rift.

Mr Trump said on Thursday he would impose hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminium to protect US producers, a move that would risk retaliation from major trade partners.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (Kospi) was down 1.6 per cent at 2,389.41 points as of 0225 GMT, its lowest intraday level since Feb 12.

Market heavyweight steelmaker Posco fell more than 3.7 per cent to hit a four-week low in its early trade, while Hyundai Steel and Dongkuk Steel each lost nearly 3 per cent.

Seoul has already launched a wide-ranging complaint at the World Trade Organization to challenge the US use of anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties, which is already affecting South Korea's steel products, citing their use on steel and transformers, a WTO filing showed last month.

The country's trade ministry said it is talking to the United States about its steel exports. South Korea is the third-largest steep exporter to the United States after Canada and Brazil.

"What's more worrisome is that this issue could be extended to re-negotiation of Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the United States, which is why auto shares and some tech shares have also taken a hit today," said Seo Sang-young, a stock analyst at Kiwoom Securities.

Automobile manufacturer Hyundai Motor slumped 4.3 per cent. Tech giant Samsung Electronics traded down 2.2 per cent.

Offshore investors were set to be net sellers, unloading 58.1 billion Korean won worth of Kospi shares near mid-session.

Decliners far outnumbered advancers 681 to 161.

The South Korean won managed to hold steady despite anxieties over trade with the United States as the greenback lost ground in the global markets.

The won was quoted at 1,082.4 to the dollar, down barely changed from its previous close at 1,082.8.

March futures on three-year treasury bonds gained 0.05 points to 107.79.