South Korea said the revised free trade agreement with the U.S. is mutually beneficial and won’t hurt the nation’s carmakers.

The countries agreed on Dec. 3 to revise the stalled free- trade accord and change provisions for automobiles and pork. The U.S. will now end its 2.5 percent tariff on automobiles in five years, instead of immediately or after three years, as was previously agreed. South Korea will cut its 8 percent tariff on U.S. automobile imports to 4 percent immediately, instead of eliminating it entirely, according to a White House fact sheet.

“South Korean car sales to the U.S. will see limited impact from the revision,” Trade Minister Kim Jong Hoon said in a briefing from Seoul yesterday.

With almost $68 billion in trade between the nations, a deal would be the U.S.’s largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, and would help President Barack Obama meet his goal of doubling American exports in five years. It was backed by U.S. companies including Citigroup Inc., Caterpillar Inc., General Electric Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The U.S. will maintain a 25 percent tariff on truck imports for eight years instead of beginning to phase it out immediately. In addition, each U.S. automaker will be able to send South Korea 25,000 cars a year that meet U.S. safety standards. They would be exempt from separate South Korean standards.

“The agreement will remove uncertainty, helping boost sales and competitiveness of South Korean cars in the U.S.,” the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Cars, Pork

The industry group estimates South Korean car sales in the U.S. will reach 950,000 this year, including 500,000 shipped from South Korea and 450,000 produced in U.S plants.

U.S. market share in South Korea slid to 10.1 percent of imported car sales last year, from 11.3 percent in 2008, according to Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association. European cars held a 62 percent market share in 2009, with Japanese brands on 28 percent.

“Korean consumers prefer premium sedans from Europe and Japan, or small Korean-made cars to U.S. brands,” Song Won Gun, a senior research fellow at the Korea Economic Research Institute in Seoul, said before the announcement.

The U.S. agreed to higher tariffs on its pork products for a longer time period. The 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork imports will be eliminated in 2016, two years later than the previous deadline, Kim said.

‘Benefits Both’

“The revision is not a result of our one-sided concession, but supports benefits for both countries,” he said yesterday in Seoul.

The extension of the deadline is a significant achievement for the nation’s farmers, the Korea Swine Association said yesterday in a statement on its website. “We’re very relieved.”

Kim said the accord makes no new provision on beef. U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, who demanded that South Korea drop restrictions on U.S. beef imports from older cattle, said he was unhappy with the agreement.

“Beef was not on the agenda during the talks and not included in the revision,” Kim said.

Tariff Cuts

American beef producers lobbied to get the deal completed quickly to gain an advantage over competitors in Australia by securing cuts in a 40 percent South Korean tariff. Once the deal is in place, U.S. pork and beef exports to South Korea could increase by $2 billion a year, the American Meat Institute estimates.

“The free trade deal with the U.S. will bring huge economic benefit to both countries,” South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said in a statement yesterday on the website of the presidential office. Lee said the agreement will help the alliance between the two countries move a step forward, according to the statement.

The trade accord is a “win-win for both our countries,” Obama told reporters in Washington yesterday. It will level the playing field for automakers, boost U.S. exports by as much as $11 billion, support job growth and enhance the U.S. partnership with South Korea, Obama said.

Boost to Exports

The pact will significantly boost South Korea’s exports through industries from autos, textiles and electronics to chemicals, South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

South Korea’s trade surplus with the U.S. will widen by $463 million annually over 10 years, helped by increased exports of automobiles, electronics and textiles, after the pact, according to a 2007 study by South Korean think tanks, including the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. Agricultural imports from the U.S. will grow by $370 million annually over 15 years, led by pork and beef, according to the study.

South Korea reported a trade surplus of $8.6 billion with the U.S. in 2009, with $37.6 billion in exports, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

Dec 5, 2010

By Jungmin Hong