The US auto industry and its supporters in Congress want the Clinton administration to pressure South Korea to allow more foreign auto sales, reports Associated Press (AP).

A two-year-old trade agreement was supposed to improve foreign automakers' access to South Korean consumers but imports still account for less than 1% of South Korea's vehicle sales, AP said.

It quoted Steve Collins, president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, which represents General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, as saying that the South Korean government has promoted a bias against imports.

He reportedly said that the Korean government has labelled foreign cars as extravagant and unpatriotic, produced news reports that blast consumers who buy imports and even targeted owners of foreign vehicles with tax audits.

"We'd like to see the Korean government take a more aggressive action to reverse past practices to intimidate Koreans from buying foreign autos," Collins reportedly said in AP's report.

According to the council, import sales in South Korea are expected to reach 4,000 vehicles, or about 0.3% of the total market this year. South Korean auto sales in the United States are expected to pass 480,000, an increase of about 45% over last year.

Collins met on Tuesday (28/11/00) with congressional staffers to encourage lawmakers to speak out against the imbalance.

Senators Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and Republican John Ashcroft of Missouri, the co-chairs of the Senate Auto Caucus, recently sent a letter to US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky expressing concern about the situation, AP says.

"While Korea has become one of the world's major auto exporting countries, it remains the most closed market for imported motor vehicles in the developed world," the senators wrote.

"This imbalance is simply unacceptable."