Sunday, September 7, 2008

South Korea, EU fail to resolve FTA differences

Seoul, September 1 - South Korea and the European Union failed to narrow their gap in their free trade agreement (FTA) talks, South Korean Trade Ministry sources said on August 29, but European Union negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told New Europe on August 30 in Seoul, “We had a very fruitful discussion and we agreed to continue talks.”

About the ministerial level meeting before the end of the year, the EU negotiator told New Europe, “We expect to have the meeting sometime in October this year.” 

South Korean Deputy Trade Minister Hye-min Lee joined his European counterpart Bercero in the eighth round of talks held in the framework of FTA negotiations since April last year.

During a three-day negotiations in Seoul, South Korean capital, the two sides decided to go ahead and seek a package solution on “sticky” issues like auto trade with a meeting proposed in mid-September, Korean sources told New Europe. 

According to business sources speaking to New Europe the EU had flatly rejected the demand of South Korea with a booming auto-industry, to drop tariffs on South Korean cars within three years after the bilateral talks take effect.

Earlier on the eve of the talks, Deputy Minister and Deputy chief negotiator Lee spoke to New Europe on the “sticky” issues and expectations on both sides. “On the services sector, the EU expects we should give more than what we have given to the US - but when we negotiated with the US - we already had EU FTA in mind.” “What we have agreed with the US is not just for the US but also for the EU. The Europeans are asking for more than that which is very difficult,” he said. 

“We will be obliged to change our regulations but European will not change anything while Europeans are set to gain from the FTA,” the Korean negotiator added. 

On the general relationship with the EU, Minister Lee lamented, “If all the countries are place in order of relation with the EU, Korea will be placed last,” asking, “Please name any country that has less relations with the EU.” 

The Minister Lee was, however, hopeful in saying, “FTA can be a backbone for future relationships with the EU and Korea. Privileged relationship originating from FTA can give rise to more generalised relationship development between two sides.” Min-soon Song, assemblyman of the opposition Democratic Party and former Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade till 2007 told New Europe, “These negotiations started when I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Korean government is eager to have the FTA.” 

Pointing to already finalised US Korea FTA, he said, “The successful record of negotiations with the US for the FTA can be a good analogy and personally I support these negotiations.” Another major obstacle to the FTA negotiations is the legal sector as Doo-Sik Kim, an international trade lawyer told journalists at a lunch organised by the Korea Press Foundation on August 25. 

Addressing the fear of Korean legal sector about the take-over and expansion of the European law firms in the Korean market, Kim said it was one of the least highlighted subjects but there is a strong opposition from the concerned lawyer lobbies. The EU is South Korea’s second largest trade partner after China. In 2007, the bilateral trade volume between South Korea and the EU amounted to USD 89.8 billion.

No comments: