Friday, October 31, 2008

MEP in Seoul predicts EU Trade Agreement possible in 2008

South Korea and the European Union are ready to sign the free trade agreement (FTA) according to visiting European lawmakers in Seoul. The Chairman of the European Parliament's Korea delegation, Austrian conservative Member of European Parliamnet (MEP) Hubert Pirker said in a statement from Seoul, “The trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea is practically ready for signing.”

After a range of meetings in Seoul, Pirker said, “In our meetings and negotiations with the South Korean Prime Minister, the ministers for foreign affairs and trade as well as with the responsible Korean negotiators for the trade agreement, we were able to come to an agreement on concluding the negotiations. Some fine points will have to be ironed out over the next month, but I expect a final agreement ready for signature before the end of this year.”

The statement from the MEP came as a surprise to business observers in Seoul and Brussels as during the FTA talks in August, South Korean Trade Ministry sources had hinted at differences on those “sticky issues,” while EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero told New Europe on August 30 in Seoul, “We had a very fruitful discussion and we agreed to continue talks.”

South Korean Deputy Trade Minister Hye-min Lee and Deputy chief negotiator in August told New Europe about the “sticky” issues and expectations on both sides, lamenting, “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.

According to business sources speaking to New Europe the EU had during talks in August 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.

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.

After meeting with Korean Prime Minister Dr. Han Seung-soo and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Kim Hyeong-o, responsible for the ratification of the agreement, all involved ministers of President Lee Myung-bak's government, Pirker, “In view of the international financial crisis and the regional and global security implications, this visit of the EU delegation is of high importance, also in the eyes of our South Korean counterparts.”

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.

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