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South Korea to start free trade talks with EU in March

23 January 2007

South Korea To Start Free Trade Talks With EU In March

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday said South Korea will launch free trade talks with the European Union this year.

South Korea "plans to initiate negotiations with the European Union on (a free trade agreement) around March," Roh said in the prepared text of a nationally televised speech scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Roh also said that South Korea will launch a joint feasibility study with China toward possibly starting similar talks and expressed confidence ongoing negotiations with the United States can produce an agreement.

"The issue of FTAs is not one of ideology anymore," Roh said, adding that economic openness is a general trend that South Korea cannot resist.

South Korea and the U.S. wrapped up a sixth round of free trade talks last week but have yet to bridge gaps in key sectors including automobiles and pharmaceuticals needed to clinch a deal.

A seventh round of talks is set to be held in Washington for four days beginning Feb. 11. The two countries want to conclude a deal by the end of March.

If successful, a deal would be the biggest for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. South Korea, the world’s 10th- largest economy, is the seventh-biggest trading partner for the U.S.

The proposed agreement has faced strong resistance from South Korean labor groups, especially farmers who have protested strenuously against any reduction of protections for agriculture, particularly rice - staple food for South Koreans.

South Korea launched its first free trade pact in 2004 with Chile and has since forged an agreement with Singapore and the European Free Trade Association, which comprises Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Negotiations are also under way with Canada and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Roh said.

Roh also called for the enhancement of corporate competitiveness and more competition in the service industry.

He also called for more balanced economic development and the creation of more jobs to help address increasing gaps between rich and poor in society.

 source: Dow Jones