South Korea: A cherished partner for the EU

Bark Taeho, South Korean Minister for Trade, in the centre, and Karel De Gucht, Member of the EC in charge of Trade, on the left, heading for the first meeting of the EU-South Korea Trade Committee.

Bark Taeho, South Korean Minister for Trade, in the centre, and Karel De Gucht, Member of the EC in charge of Trade, on the left, heading for the first meeting of the EU-South Korea Trade Committee.

South Korea or the Republic of Korea (RoK) is a privileged trading partner of the European Union. The Free Trade Agreement the two sides have concluded was signed on 6 October 2010 and entered into force in July 2011.

This FTA was the first one the European Union penned down with an Asian nation and the first of its kind the EU signed, after the collapse of talks in the World Trade Organisation, a development that left unfinished, for the foreseeable future, the Doha Round negotiations. The EU choose RoK to negotiate and conclude an FTA for very good reasons. But let’s follow the facts.

As it is well know the Doha Round collapse left unfinished the last cycle of WTO negotiations, aiming at generously liberalising world trade. Incidentally the Doha Round was planned to cover a lot more chapters than trade. It included negotiations on services and investments, competition rules, government procurement, intellectual property rights, transparency in regulation to sustainable development and more. It was a memorable effort by the 157 country members of WTO to give to globalisation a much wider context than trade, by establishing a relatively standardised business environment all over the globe.

Alas it failed. It was the US that “bombed” the Doha round negotiations at a critical point, where two dossiers, trade in agricultural products and investments, were on the table. From that moment onwards, the major trading partners of the world changed course, and started thinking about bilateral Free Trade Agreements. This was the tombstone of the Doha Round. Again, it was the Americans who first started negotiating FTAs with their political friends all over the world.In view of this the EU could not stand idle. If the Europeans wanted to continue being world leaders in international trade, there had to do something.

The FTAs was the obvious way to take, but where from to start? At that point the choice of Rok came forward. Korea was a peaceful trader and an excellent producer. Its relations with the EU were impeccable and the two sides had a lot in common. As the Commission notes “South Korea is a key, like-minded partner for the EU in an increasingly important part of the world. The EU-Korea relationship has evolved over the past few years, based on shared values, common issues of global concern and the increasing role of both partners at world stage”.

The conclusion of an FTA between the EU and RoK was quite a success story, and bilateral trade prospers. According to an EU note, “since the entry into force of the FTA in July 2011, the European Commission is monitoring closely the imports to and from South Korea in sensitive sectors. Every two months the Commission presents a monitoring report to the EU Member States, the European Parliament and the relevant industry associations on the evolution of imports of textiles, consumer electronics and cars.

In addition, the Commission presents an annual monitoring report to the European Parliament and the Council. A Framework Agreement between the EU and South Korea was signed on 10 May 2010. It provides a basis for strengthened cooperation, including on major political and global issues such as human rights, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counter-terrorism, as well as climate change and energy security. This is an overarching political cooperation agreement with a legal link to the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement.

For the EU-RoK, Free Trade Agreement see: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/JOHtml.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:127:SOM:EN:HTML.

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