South Korean and European Union negotiators opened talks for a free trade deal some studies say could boost their nearly $80 billion bilateral trade by as much as a quarter.
The talks follow a bilateral trade pact Seoul reached with Washington in April. A South Korean government study said that deal could boost Asia’s third-largest economy six percent over the next 10 years.
The first round of talks with the EU started in Seoul with discussions on manufactured goods and the services sector, South Korea’s trade ministry said. A second round is expected in mid-July in Brussels.
Announcing the start of the talks, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said that Brussels would focus on the auto sector, widely seen as heavily protected by South Korea—itself a major car exporter.
South Korea seeks greater openings for its autos as well as its electronics and textiles in a market that has maintained average trade tariffs higher than those of the United States.
The talks are a part of South Korea’s drive for bilateral trade deals.
Fresh deals are already in effect with Chile since 2004 and Singapore since last year, and one with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expected to take effect next month.
But unlike in negotiations with the United States and Chile, there is little pressure from Brussels for South Korea to open up its tightly defended agriculture sector.
U.S. pressure to open up that market to imports triggered widespread and often violent protests in South Korea.
But a small group of anti-liberalization activists rallied outside the talks venue on Monday even before negotiators began meeting, saying a free trade deal with the EU would “devastate” South Korea’s economy. (Reuters)