South Korea is ready to open talks next month with the EU on a free trade agreement, President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday.
Roh, speaking after a meeting with visiting Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, said they "shared a common understanding of the enormous economic effects" such an agreement would have.
"South Korea concluded the FTA with the US despite fierce opposition by many South Koreans," the president told a joint press conference.
"But South Korea's FTA talks with the EU may not run into any significant resistance. We're ready to open talks with the EU in May," he said.
After 10 months of tough bargaining, Seoul early this month sealed a free trade pact with Washington which scraps tariffs on thousands of items and would boost commerce by billions of dollars a year.
Kim Han-soo, head of the free trade bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said separately a deal with Europe may be easier since both sides are likely to propose "many exceptions" in agricultural goods.
Seoul managed to exclude its politically sensitive rice crop from the US deal.
Roh said he and Prodi agreed to cooperate more closely in the fields of marine logistics, industrial technology, information technology and science.
Prodi, who arrived on Tuesday for a three-day visit, told the news conference that Italy will positively consider offering humanitarian aid to North Korea.
South Korea, which is Asia's third-largest economy, has been holding preliminary talks with the EU for about a year. Two-way annual trade is worth US$71 billion compared to US$78 billion between Seoul and Washington.