South Korea set to expand imports from U.S.
The government unveiled the 2017 overseas economic policy plans at a minister-level meeting in Seoul chaired by Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho, focusing on increasing policy resilience against rising uncertainties and trade protectionism.
"This year, we face the so-called G-2 risks -- the United States and China, the two world superpowers," said Jin Seoung-ho from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance. "This year's plans are aimed at managing external risks from the United States and China and expanding economic cooperation."
In his inauguration speech, new U.S. President Donald Trump stressed his "America First" doctrine again, saying that his every decision on trade, taxes and foreign affairs will be made to benefit Americans.
He also signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from a massive Asia-Pacific free trade deal in line with his constant remarks against free trade.
Many fear that the new U.S. president will take similar actions with many free trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA), which took effect in 2012.
He has denounced the Seoul-Washington FTA as a job destroyer, hinting that he would seek to revise the terms.
Asia's fourth-largest economy posted US$23.3 billion in trade surplus with the U.S. last year, accounting for 26 percent of the country's total trade surplus.
The Seoul government has been seeking various ways to reduce the country's massive current surplus with the United States, which has blamed South Korea for maintaining its currency weaker than the U.S. dollar.
Starting from 2017, the finance ministry said it will import U.S. shale gas in earnest, with the first batch of 2.8 million tons for this year, while it will consider expanding imports of U.S. products like aircraft and components.
It will also send a government-level representative to Washington at an appropriate time to increase contact with the U.S. trade policymakers.
In addition, South Korea will pursue free trade deals with Mexico and South American countries, while seeking to conclude ongoing FTA negotiations with Israel and Ecuador as soon as possible.
For China, the country's biggest trade partner, South Korea will make more efforts to maintain strong economic alliance with the neighboring nation at governmental and non-governmental levels.
It will hold various cultural and academic events this year both in Korea and China to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the official diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
For China's recent hostile actions against the Korean Wave and businesses in apparent retaliation for welcoming a U.S.-owned missile system, the government will bring up the issue at multilateral talks like the World Trade Organization.
The government will help local businesses win 15 lucrative overseas infrastructure-building projects, including Turkey's Çanakkale bridge program worth more than $3 billion.
Former ambassadors and ministers will be named special regional envoys to lent support to claiming such overseas projects.
For 2017, South Korea is expected to post $510 billion in exports, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier, through diversifying its product portfolios to consumer goods such as cosmetics, fashion items and foodstuffs. ■