South Korea and the EU are ready to announce the conclusion of their free-trade talks, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said ahead of a meeting yesterday with Sweden, the current chair of the rotating EU presidency.
“I think we can declare the conclusion of negotiations,”’ Lee told South Koreans in a nationwide radio address broadcast yesterday.
Lee is closing out a European tour in Sweden. He said he will confirm the contents of the deal with Sweden’s prime minister. The two were scheduled to meet later yesterday.
South Korea and the EU began negotiating the accord to slash tariffs and other barriers to trade in May 2007.
Bilateral trade reached US$98.4 billion last year. The EU is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner after China and its largest foreign investor.
The talks have dragged out longer than both sides had hoped, however, amid difficulty bridging differences over refunds South Korea pays to local companies for tariffs incurred on imported parts used in exported goods.
Opposition by EU automakers to the deal has also been a sticking point. South Korea enjoys a big surplus in vehicle trade.
South Korea is aggressively pursuing free-trade agreements. It reached one with the US in April 2007, but the deal has since languished in political limbo in both countries and remains unratified.
The EU’s 27 nations largely backed the deal with South Korea after EU governments met on Friday to discuss a draft agreement for the first time, though several nations asked for more time to study the compromise text, an EU diplomat said after the meeting.