"The Office of the US Trade Representative today requested the first ever consultations with the Republic of Korea under the chapter on Competition-Related Matters (Chapter 16) of the United States-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement," the USTR said in a press release posted on its homepage.
"Through these consultations, the United States will attempt to resolve concerns regarding procedures in competition hearings held by the Korea Fair Trade Commission," USTR said.
It said the KFTC has not sufficiently guaranteed US companies' rights, including the opportunity to review and rebut the evidence against them, and undermined their abilities to defend themselves, when the Korean antitrust watchdog undergoes hearings.
KTFC's conduct violates KORUS Article 16, under which every party is entitled to have a "reasonable opportunity" to review and rebut evidence, according to the USTR.
It added the revised South Korean competition law still fails to address US concerns.
It is the first time in seven years that USTR made a formal consultation request under the KORUS agreement, which took effect in 2012.
The USTR did not elaborate on a particular case that it is referring to. But insiders in the South Korean industrial circles point out the KFTC's 1 trillion won (US$879.9 million) fine ruling against global giant Qualcomm Inc. for violating the local antitrust law in 2016.
Filing a complaint against the KFTC's decision, the San Diego-based firm has argued that it had been nearly unable to defend itself during the KFTC investigation.
"The South Korean government thinks that the local competition-related laws comply with the KORUS agreement," an official from the trade ministry said. "Through the consultations process, we will explain our positions thoroughly to the US side."