US trade representative Ron Kirk has described the automotive trade deficit between South Korea and North America as unacceptable.

He is concerned that so many more Korean made vehicles are sold in the US than American made vehicles are sold in Korea and is trying to revamp a pending free trade deal to reduce the disparity without closing off the US market to Korean imports.

Kirk told reporters: “The gist of our effort is to guarantee our exporters have the same access to the Korean market as they have to us.”

Sister brands Hyundai and Kia have both established new factories in the US and  imports of Korean cars and auto parts were valued at US$8.4bn last year. Imports may rise as much as US$1.7 bn annually as a result of the free-trade deal, according to estimates by the US International Trade Commission.

The US exported 6,140 vehicles to South Korea last year, the low number due to a variety of taxes, customs rules and regulatory standards in the country that discriminate against foreign competitors.

Hyundai and Kia sold 735,000 cars and light trucks in the US last year. Hyundai’s Alabama factory opened in 2005 and Kia’s plant in Georgia started production in February.