SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korea’s auto exports to the United States fell for the first time in seven years last year amid concerns that the Trump administration may take protectionist measures on vehicle imports, industry data showed Wednesday.
According to the data compiled by the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, automakers here shipped 964,432 cars to the U.S. last year, a 9.5 percent on-year fall. The cars were worth US$15.58 billion, also down 9.8 percent.
In contrast, U.S. vehicle imports here surged 22.4 percent last year to a record 60,099, the data showed.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose hefty tariffs on imported vehicles, as a way of prodding global automakers to build plants in the U.S. and create more jobs there.
Last year’s sluggish auto shipments to the U.S. was because Hyundai Motor Co. and its smaller affiliate Kia Motors Corp. — the country’s top two automakers — suffered a series of labor strikes, which cut their output amid increased competition.
Hyundai Motor exported 335,762 units to the U.S. last year, down from 368,172 the previous year, while Kia Motors also saw its shipments to the U.S. drop 27 percent to 332,470 units last year.
Since the global financial crisis in 2009, South Korea’s auto shipments to the U.S. had been on a steady rise, partly aided by a free trade deal with the U.S.
However, there are concerns that free trade could suffer a setback under the Trump administration.
Trump, who blamed free trade for many American economic woes, has denounced the free trade agreement with South Korea as a disaster, though he stopped short of directly saying he would seek to renegotiate it.
Attempts to revise or renegotiate the agreement could set off diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Washington.