South Korea

South Korea is making a last-ditch attempt to win an exemption from US tariffs on cars and auto parts, as the country struggles to shield its export-driven economy from rising US protectionism and the fallout from Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the Financial Times reported. Yoo Myung-hee, South Korea’s trade minister, will visit Washington this week to press Seoul’s case with White House officials, members of Congress and US trade representatives, before the US president pushes through a new tariff against one of its key allies in Asia.

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South Korea needs another economic overhaul like the one following the International Monetary Fund bailout in the late-1990s to stay competitive globally, according to a major global restructuring consulting firm, Bloomberg News reported. It’s as if Asia’s fourth-largest economy is being squeezed with a nutcracker, with China catching up to Korea and overtaking it in some sectors, while Japan is regaining its competitiveness as the economy recovers and it comes up with innovative technologies, said Yung Chung, Seoul-based managing director of AlixPartners LLP.

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South Korea’s economy suffered its worst quarterly contraction since the global financial crisis as the export-driven economy felt the pinch from weakening growth in China, global trade tension and a downturn in the technology sector, the Financial Times reported. The 0.3 per cent fall in economy follows growth of 1 per cent in the previous quarter, undershooting expectations that gross domestic product would increase 0.3 per cent, according to economists polled by Reuters.

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South Korean auditors are refusing to sign off on more and more corporate financial statements due to tighter regulations, giving investors earlier warning signs of trouble ahead, Bloomberg News reported. Auditors declined to give the green light on 37 financial statements by listed companies for 2018, about a 68 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Financial Services Commission. The jump in rejections comes as South Korea takes more steps to ensure that auditors have independence from companies that hire them, while increasing penalties in case of fraudulent accounting.

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The top shareholder of South Korea’s second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, said on Monday it would sell its entire stake in the debt-ridden firm to keep it afloat, sending shares of the carrier and its budget arm 30 percent higher, Reuters reported. The move caps weeks of financial uncertainty involving the carrier which started last month when it failed to win auditors’ sign-off on its 2018 financial statements, triggering warnings of credit ratings downgrades and the resignation of the parent group’s chairman.

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South Korea’s cash-strapped Asiana Airlines Inc plans to cut unprofitable routes and the size of its fleet to improve its financial health, Chief Executive Han Chang-soo said in a letter to employees on Monday. Han’s co-chief executive resigned on Thursday and its debt-ridden parent Kumho Asiana Group sought financial support from its biggest creditor after an accounting fiasco triggered warnings of credit rating downgrades, Reuters reported. He also said the company would sell more assets to secure liquidity, but did not elaborate.

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South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinbin has declared bankruptcy after suffering millions of dollars in losses, in part due to claimed embezzlement, CoinDesk reported. Coinbin published a notice on its website on Wednesday, stating that “increased debt” and “government regulation” led to the firm having to halt its business operations. Specifically, it said regulators’ suspension of its ability to issue virtual accounts to users was part of the cause, as well as increased operating expenses and liabilities from its collapsed subsidiary exchange Youbit.

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The South Korean government has attempted to remedy the problem but its roots are deep: the country’s powerful conglomerates and offshore competition are squeezing smaller employers, the Financial Times reported. “Although SMEs account for a small portion of the country’s GDP, their trouble has a big impact on the job market and consumption,” said Lee Sang-jae, an economist at Eugene Investment and Securities. Chinese competition is hollowing out vast tracts of industry that once girded South Korea’s export-led economy.

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South Korean has announced a fresh set of measures to boost economic growth and create jobs by offering financial support for smaller companies and a fuel tax cut to spur consumption. The latest measures come as the administration of President Moon Jae-in comes under growing pressure to revitalise a stalled economy and weak jobs market, the Financial Times reported.

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