The Korea Times | 19 January 2022
Korea, GCC to resume free trade talks after 12-year hiatus
By Nam Hyun-woo
RIYADH ― Korea will resume talks for a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the first quarter of this year, nearly 12 years after negotiations were halted with the alliance of six Middle Eastern countries, Cheong Wa Dae said, Wednesday (local time).
On the occasion of President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries agreed to resume their talks for the agreement, with Korea’s Minister for Trade Yeo Han-koo and GCC Secretary General Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf announcing the decision.
During a meeting with Al-Hajraf, Moon said a potential free trade agreement between the two sides will increase mutual benefits in the fields of goods, service, investment, intellectual property and energy, and asked the secretary general to ramp up his efforts to facilitate an outcome which could be satisfactory for both sides.
The GCC is a political and economic alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
GCC member nations are Korea’s key trading partners in the Middle East. Korea’s trade with GCC member countries totaled $46.6 billion in 2020, accounting for 78 percent of Seoul’s total trade with the region.
Since 2007, Korea and the GCC have been negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement and held three rounds of official talks. But there has not been any progress since January 2010, when the GCC halted its talks with not only Korea but also Japan, China, the European Union and the U.S.
Cheong Wa Dae said the two countries will resume their talks in the first quarter of this year, aiming to wrap up the negotiations as soon as possible. Korea will appoint Lee Kyung-sik, a senior negotiator at Korea’s trade ministry, as its representative in the talks.
A free trade agreement with the GCC is expected to become a turning point for Korea to strengthen its foothold in the areas of trade and investment in the Middle East. The pact is also anticipated to serve as a gateway for Korean exports to Europe and Africa.
During his meeting with the secretary general, Moon noted efforts by GCC member nations to diversify their oil-dependent industrial portfolio and nurture future-oriented businesses such as hydrogen, renewable energy and healthcare, and said such endeavors will offer an opportunity to enhance their ties with Korea.
Among GCC countries, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a policy called Saudi Vision 2030 to lower its oil reliance and diversify its economy. Dubai and Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are also pursuing a 2030 strategy to enhance their manufacturing industries.
The secretary general echoed Moon’s idea, lauding Korea’s experience and technologies in manufacturing, renewable energy and biopharmaceutical industries, and promised to enhance the GCC’s ties with Korea.