South Korea, EU On Track To Reach Free Trade Agreement

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea and the European Union concluded the first round of free trade negotiations Friday, with both sides saying the talks were positive and expressed hope a deal can be concluded promptly.

''I believe that as the first round of negotiations this round was highly successful,'' Kim Han-soo, Seoul's chief negotiator, told reporters. He added that the two sides ''built up a substantial level of mutual trust between the negotiators.''

No sectoral agreements were announced, but Han-soo said negotiators agreed to work towards liberalizing at least 95 percent of tariffs on goods within 10 years of an agreement taking effect.

''The two sides will aim to achieve complete liberalization within this timeframe for industrial goods,'' he said.
Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU's chief negotiator, echoed Kim, calling the week ''very constructive.'' He added, however, that the 95 percent target ''should only be seen as an indication of a minimum level of ambition.''

Kim and Garcia Bercero, along with their respective teams, began the talks Monday at a Seoul hotel.

The EU and South Korea did nearly $80 billion of trade last year. The EU is South Korea's second-biggest trading partner after China. South Korea is the EU's eighth-largest trading partner, while the EU is the biggest foreign investor in South Korea.

If successful, an EU free trade deal would be South Korea's biggest, exceeding an agreement forged last month with the United States after 10 months of contentious negotiations. That pact needs be to be ratified by each countries' legislatures.

South Korea is seeking to increase exports to the EU of automobiles, textiles, electronics, movies and music as well as access for South Korean professionals such as architects and nurses. The EU is looking to increase sales of autos and gain greater access to South Korea's service sector.

Garcia Bercero, echoing comments made Sunday in Seoul by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, said successfully concluding ongoing trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization remains a priority.

''I think that an FTA between Korea and the European Union, which are strong supporters of the WTO and the multilateral trading system, is something that would help and support the process of seeking progress on the Doha Round of negotiations,'' Bercero said.

Those trade talks, named after the capital of Qatar where they were launched in 2001, have stalled mostly due to disagreements over farm trade. Despite the upbeat tone of the first week of talks of South Korea-EU talks, Han-soo cautioned trouble was unlikely to be avoided.

''We expect that there will be quite a number of difficulties that will come up in the remaining rounds,'' he said, without elaborating.

Seoul and Washington carried out their talks amid considerable drama as they struggled to reach a compromise ahead of a deadline dictated by the expiry of President George W. Bush's special trade negotiation powers.
In the end, they reached the agreement on April 2 in Seoul with just minutes to spare.

Negotiations between South Korea and the EU, on the other hand, have no particular deadline, though both are hoping for a timely conclusion.

Han-soo said they would meet for a second round in Brussels from July 16-20, where concrete proposals would be put on the table. Also, negotiators planned to stay in touch via intersession meetings and video conferences.
 
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