SEOUL - Major foreign automakers that operate in Korea have voted to boycott the 1999 Seoul Motor Show, which is scheduled for early May.
Acting as the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, the 13 carmakers said they will no longer tolerate what they call discrimination by the show's organizer, the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, and will not participate in next year's event.
'We must be able to participate in this show as an equal,' said Yoon Dae-Sung, managing director of the importers' group.
The group includes Ford, GM, Chrysler, Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota, BMW, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Porsche, Saab and Volvo.
The biennial Seoul event was first held in 1995. That year, import brands were relegated to a tent outside the main convention center. Two years later, they were given part of the second floor of the main hall.
Aside from space allocation, the importers also complain that show organizers charge them double the registration fee that Korean automakers pay.
An official of the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association said without elaboration last month that show organizers are trying to negotiate a settlement with the import brands.
The dispute comes against the backdrop of a fast-approaching deadline for imposing possible sanctions against Korean vehicle imports into the USA.
Under US trade law, American and Korean negotiators have until 19 October to resolve a complaint filed by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association alleging that the Korean market remains closed to imports.
Circumstances, however, have changed dramatically since AAMA filed its petition one year ago.
'Their domestic auto economy, year to year, is off 50 percent,' said Walter Huizenga, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
He said conditions add up to a 'depression' in the automotive sector in Korea. So ordering the market open tomorrow would have no practical effect.
Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors' chief economist, said GM would prefer an agreement that ensures openness in the market in the future, while allowing time now for an economic recovery. He said, 'We have been urging the US government, while taking a firm stand, to also keep the focus on where we will be five years from now.'