SEOUL-- South Korean auto exports to the United States in the first nine months of 2017 practically stood unchanged from the year before, while imports moved up 4.6 percent, trade data showed Sunday.

The outbound shipment figures come even after Washington removed the 2.5 percent import duties it levied on South Korean cars starting in 2016 in accordance with the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). This is an indication that there is little correlation between the trade pact and automobile exports.

According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), cars shipped to the United States in the January-September period totaled just under US$11.26 billion, up about a mere $2 million from a year earlier. The lackluster numbers come after South Korean auto exports to the world's No. 1 economy actually contracted 10.9 percent on-year in 2016.

Auto exports accounted for 21.6 percent of all South Korea goods shipped to the North American country this year, down from 23.5 percent in 2016, KITA said.

The latest findings also revealed that car parts exports declined 2.8 percent on-year in 2016 and backtracked 13.4 percent this year to $4.54 billion.

KITA said the weak number for autos are in direct contrast to the surge in cars before the FTA with the United States went into effect in 2012. At that time, exports rose an average 37.2 percent annually.

On the other hand, imports of U.S.-made cars moved up to $1.35 billion won this year from $1.25 billion tallied a year earlier. The market share of U.S. cars in South Korea reached 18 percent in 2016 from 9.6 percent before the open trade pact went into effect.

South Korea had slashed by half its 8 percent tariffs levied on U.S.-made cars once the FTA was implemented and started to allow American cars into the country without duties last year.

"Trade and market data clearly showed the U.S. deficit in auto trade is not linked to the FTA, with American cars slowly making inroads into the South Korean market," a KITA official said. He added such facts need to be made clear in upcoming trade talks with Washington to revise the five-year-old trade agreement.

Source: Yonhap News Agency