Seoul escalates dispute over US solar tariffs with WTO complaint


South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MoTIE) has formally requested bilateral consultations with Washington on the grounds that the safeguard tariffs, implemented under U.S. President Donald Trump following the Section 201 trade case, are not in compliance with WTO trade rules, according to an online statement by the ministry.

The move indicates that the two sides have failed to reach a mutually agreeable resolution on the matter, despite months of talks outside of the WTO. MoTIE said the two sides will hold consultations on the issue for 60 days, after which South Korea may ask for a WTO panel to look at the dispute.

In January, Trump slapped hefty import duties on inbound shipments of solar equipment over a period of five years, with the tariff rate on solar cells and PV modules to gradually scale down to 15% by the final year. Shipments of PV cells that exceed 2.5 GW in the first year will be subject to a tariff of 30%.

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Seoul responded almost immediately with plans to file a petition with the WTO. At the time, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong described the safeguard tariffs as “excessive.” In March, the Trump administration followed the decision to apply tariffs on imported solar kit by announcing a 25% import tariff on steel products and a 10% tariff on aluminum.

The Japanese government revealed plans to follow Korea’s lead in April, echoing Seoul’s demand that Washington reverse the import duties or face similar retaliatory measures. The South Korean government has since said that if it fails to resolve the tariffs issue to its satisfaction through bilateral consultation, it will request a review from a WTO panel.

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