15 August 2004
By Bae Keun-min
South Korea and the four-member European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are expected to begin talks for a free trade agreement (FTA) from early next year, according to a top government official.
Kim Han-soo, deputy director general for FTA affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT), said Korea and EFTA will decide in October whether to promote an FTA.
After the 1st Korea-EFTA FTA Joint Study held in Geneva last Wednesday through Friday with the participation of South Korea and the four member nations of EFTA — Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — Kim said the two groups will make a final report on the feasibility of an FTA in October.
Kim, who headed the Korean delegation, said a decision concerning the possibility of an FTA will be based on the final report to be presented after the second joint study session Oct. 13-15 in Seoul.
However, Kim was positive that FTA negotiations would be launched early next year. Unlike the case of agricultural produces hampering the FTA between Korea and Chile, there are no specific issues hindering an FTA between Korea and EFTA, Kim said.
In the first joint study meeting last week, the nations exchanged views on the current conditions of trade and investment between Korea and EFTA, the FTA policies of the relevant economies, and the scope of liberalization for concluding an FTA.
While Korea and Chile ratified an FTA in January, Korea had a hard time passing it in the National Assembly due to strong opposition from Korean farmers, who are afraid of a drop in income due to an inflow of inexpensive Chilean farm produce.
Kim said Korea paid more attention to the increase in imports and exports that would result from an FTA during the session, while EFTA focused more on qualitative effects of the agreement, including foreign direct investment, the opening of the service industry and the promotion of manufacturing competitiveness.
Kim said if an FTA is ratified, the two sides will also enjoy a range of invisible benefits besides the exchange of manufactured goods, services, investment and processed agricultural and seafood products.
Korea and EFTA agreed to launch a feasibility study for a possible FTA for completion during the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in May.