European lawmaker says South Korea-EU trade deal in 2008

November 1st, 2008 - 5:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Nov 1 (IANS) South Korea and the European Union (EU) are ready to sign their free trade agreement (FTA) this year, according to a European lawmaker leading a delegation to the Asian country. Huber Pirker, chairman of a European parliament delegation visiting South Korea, said in a statement from Seoul: “The trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea is practically ready for signing.”

“Some fine points will have to be ironed out over the next month, but I expect a final agreement ready for signature before the end of this year,” Pirker said Friday after a range of meetings in Seoul with the South Korean prime minister, ministers for foreign affairs and trade and other negotiators.

The progress of the South Korea-EU FTA negotiations is of interest to India, which too is engaged in talks to conclude an India-EU Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement with the 27-nation grouping.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set the two sides a deadline of end-2009.

However, the statement from the European lawmaker came as a surprise to business observers in Seoul and Brussels as during FTA talks in August, the South Korean trade minister had hinted at differences on “sticky issues”, particularly over EU expectations on the services sector liberalisation.

South Korean Deputy Trade Minister Hye-min Lee told IANS then: “On the services sector, the EU expects we should give more than what we have given to the US - but when we negotiated with the US - we already had EU FTA in mind.”

“What we have agreed with the US is not just for the US but also for the EU. The Europeans are asking for more than that, which is very difficult,” he said.

“We will be obliged to change our regulations but Europeans will not change anything while Europeans are set to gain from the FTA,” the South Korean negotiator added.

According to business sources speaking on conditions of anonymity, the EU in the August talks flatly rejected a South Korean demand to drop tariffs on South Korean cars within three years of the bilateral talks taking effect.

Another major obstacle is a demand for South Korea to open up its legal services sector.

The EU is South Korea’s second largest trading partner after China, with bilateral trade reaching nearly $90 billion last year.

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