South Korea’s Moon bemoans GM plant closure, calls on government to be stern in U.S. trade talks

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SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday General Motors Co’s (GM.N) decision to shut down a factory south of Seoul will be a blow to the region and asked relevant government ministries to take measures to shore up economic activity there. Moon also asked his government to act sternly in trade talks with the United States, expressing worry over curbs on imports from other countries recently imposed by Washington. GM announced last week it will shutter the plant in Gunsan, in South Korea’s southwest, by May and decide within weeks on the fate of the remaining three plants in the country. “Especially, the decline in employment (at GM) and subcontractors will be difficult to bear for Gunsan City and North Jeolla province,” Moon told his aides at a regular meeting. Moon asked them to look “aggressively” into any possible mitigation measures like designating Gunsan as an “employment crisis area” and called for urgent measures to aid workers affected by pending layoffs. Feb 16, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; South Korea president Jae-in Moon visit the Olympic Main Press Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY SportsSince taking office last May, Moon has pushed hard on job creation, especially those for young South Koreans and the closure of the GM plant has been seen as a setback for his plans regarding boosting employment in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. Workers at the Gunsan GM plant, where 2,000 employees work, have called the shutdown a “death sentence” and threatened a strike. The factory had already been running at about 20 percent of capacity over the past three years even before the U.S. carmaker announced the shutdown, the latest of steps taken by GM to put profitability and innovation ahead of sales and volume. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has recently approved import tariffs on washing machines, took the shutdown announcement last week as an opportunity to launch fresh criticism of the free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea. Trump has been critical of the deal ever since his bid for presidential office and the two countries are in renegotiation. “Due to the expansion of U.S. import curbs on our export products like steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, I worry about our exports as a whole despite our international competitiveness,” said Moon in the same meeting. “I ask the government to act firmly and sternly to unreasonable protectionist measures, such as lodging complaints to the World Trade Organisation and checking for violations of the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement.” Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christopher CushingOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Source: Reuters