S. Korean prime minister says FTA with EU is mandatory, not optional
By Kim Young-gyo
SEOUL, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) — A free trade agreement betwen South Korea and the European Union (EU) is mandatory, not optional, South Korean Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook said Wednesday.
Han made the comment during a speech in Seoul for members of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea (EUCCK) at an event commemorating the chamber’s 20th anniversary.
"Exports account for 70 percent of South Korea’s entire economy. South Korea is voluntarily opening its market in order to survive in the face of global competition," the prime minister said. "An FTA with the EU is mandatory, not optional for the country."
The EU is the second-largest export market for South Korea and the largest foreign investor in the country.
Total trade this year amounted to 52.7 billion euros (US$70.1 billion), double that of ten years ago, she added.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, and the EU have engaged in studies for the possible launch of FTA negotiations. Preliminary talks were held earlier this year in Brussels.
A dozen anti-FTA protesters, mainly farmers, interrupted the public hearing on the South Korea-EU FTA held in Seoul last month, demanding the government cancel the hoped-for negotiations. Farmers fear that a deal would destroy their livelihoods.
South Korea is currently engaged in a fifth round of FTA talks with the U.S. So far, many challenges, especially in the agriculture, automobile and pharmaceuticals sectors, remain unresolved.
The prime minister said South Korea is eager to participate in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA)talks, currently in a lull.
Seoul maintains that the market for rice and other agricultural goods should not be fully opened, referring to a clause in the DDA talks permitting exceptions to liberalization.
"South Korea is growing into a financial hub in the Asia-Pacific region. It can be a stepping stone for the EU’ advance into the Northeast Asian market," she said, urging EUCCK members to support FTA talks with the European body.