South Korea, Vietnam seek redress from U.S. through World Trade Organization

South Korea has asked the World Trade Organization for authorization to impose annual trade sanctions worth at least $711 million on the United States, a filing published by the World Trade Organization showed on Friday, while Vietnam also has a seafood-related trade beef with the U.S.

Complaints, coming on heels of U.S.-Canada friction, involve washing machines and fish fillets

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has faced an upsurge in complaints since the beginning of 2017 compared to recent years, and paralysis in hearing appeals. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

South Korea has asked the World Trade Organization for authorisation to impose annual trade sanctions worth at least $711 million on the United States, a filing published by the World Trade Organization showed on Friday.

As well as those sanctions, arising from a dispute over trade in washing machines, Seoul also asked for permission to impose an open-ended amount of trade sanctions if Washington broke the same rules again with regard to other products.

The demand adds to a growing list of reproaches of U.S. trade policy, especially the punitive duties with which it often targets allegedly unfair trade.

In the past week alone, the WTO has published a broad Canadian complaint about the U.S. trade rulebook and a WTO filing on Friday showed Vietnam has complained about U.S. tariffs on fish.

India has also re-opened a U.S. dispute, alleging Washington has failed to comply with a ruling on solar power.

Trade tension is rising because of U.S. demands to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and virtual paralysis in the WTO dispute system, caused by a U.S. veto on new judges at what is effectively the world trade supreme court. In one of Donald Trump's early moves, the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose signatories included Canada and Vietnam.

South Korea said it was demanding compensation because the United States had failed to meet a Dec. 26 deadline to comply with a ruling against duties of up to 82 per cent it had imposed on appliances made by Samsung Electronics Co, LG Electronics Inc and Daewoo Electronics Co.

Earlier on Friday, the United States and South Korea formally accepted a WTO ruling in a separate dispute over U.S. duties on South Korean steel pipe used in oil drilling, according to transcripts of statements at the WTO's dispute settlement meeting.

Vietnam seafood exports to U.S. booming

South Korea's representative expressed disappointment that the ruling had not recognised "the magnitude of U.S. political pressure" — including letters from over 50 senators and 150 members of the House of Representatives — that prompted the U.S. Department of Commerce to drastically beef up its claim against South Korea.

South Korea's Trade Ministry is also considering filing a WTO complaint over U.S. restrictions on solar panel imports, it said in November.

Vietnam is claiming Washington has broken WTO rules in the way it has imposed punitive tariffs on Vietnamese fish fillets it claims are being "dumped, or sold at an unfairly cheap price, on the U.S. market.

U.S. imports of fish fillets from Vietnam have grown from $100 million US in 2007 to more than $520 million in 2016. That made Vietnam the third-biggest U.S. supplier after Chile and China and the U.S. the top export market for Vietnamese fish.

The United States has 60 days to settle the complaint, or Vietnam could ask the WTO to adjudicate. Washington has faced a slew of trade disputes over its use of anti-dumping duties in the past two decades, and has lost many of them after its calculation methods were found to be out of line with WTO rules.

The Vietnamese complaint was the fourth dispute initiated by Vietnam since it joined the WTO in 2007. Two of its previous complaints took aim at U.S. anti-dumping actions against Vietnam's shrimp exports.

The long-running shrimp battle finally ended in 2016 when the United States agreed to remove duties on a Vietnamese shrimp exporter and to refund duty deposits that it had paid.