SEOUL TO CUT TARIFFS ON 436 IMPORTS

SEOUL TO CUT TARIFFS ON 436 IMPORTS

South Korea will lower import tariffs on 436 products from March 1 in an effort to ease friction with its trading partners, a government official said Friday.

Tariffs on items including cars, cosmetics and construction materials will be reduced by 2 percent to 20 percent, the official said.At the same time, government officials reported South Korea's current account surplus amounted to a preliminary $600 million in January, down from $942 million in December and $680 million in the same month a year ago.

The rapid growth in South Korea's current account surplus has been the source of friction with the United States and other trading partners that are running trade deficits with South Korea.

The decline in the January current account was attributed to various government measures in recent months to increase imports so as to keep trade surplus from growing too much.

In January, South Korea's merchandise trade surplus was about $450 million, the invisible trade surplus $70 million and the surplus in the transfer account $80 million, officials said.

The government plans to hold down this year's current account surplus to $6 billion from a record $9.2 billion last year.

A year ago, the United States formally asked South Korea to cut tariffs and dismantle other import barriers for 982 items as a way to correct the trade imbalance between the two countries.

As a result, South Korea slashed import tariffs between 5 percent and 20 percent on 266 items, including passenger cars, films, computers, pianos and color television sets.

The United States ran a trade deficit with South Korea of $9.5 billion last year, up 30 percent from a year earlier.

The latest tariff reductions will slash South Korea's revenue this year by $92 million, officials said.

Under the latest action, tariff rates for passenger cars will go down

from the current 50 percent to 30 percent.

Some of the other 435 tariff cuts include: pianos from 20 percent to 15 percent, color television sets from 30 percent to 15 percent, computers from 20 percent to 15 percent, camera films from 20 percent to 15 percent, cosmetics from 30 percent to 25 percent, tiles from 20 percent to 10 percent, washbasins from 30 percent to 10 percent, viscose yarn from 20 percent to 5 percent and wheat and corn from 10 percent to 5 percent.