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EU sees South Korea trade deal as model for Asia

By Kelly Olsen

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 19 2011 9:30 p.m. MDT

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, right, talks with EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero, left, as Tomasz Kozlowski, EU ambassador to South Korea, listens before a seminar, “EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement – Putting the FTA into Practice,” in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, June 20, 2011. Garcia Bercero says the EU wants its ambitious free trade agreement with South Korea to serve as the model for other deals it is pursuing in Asia.

Ahn Young-joon, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — The European Union wants its ambitious free trade agreement with South Korea to serve as the model for other deals it is pursuing in Asia, a trade official said Monday.

The EU and South Korea will see their tariff-slashing pact go into effect July 1 in the culmination of a process that began in May 2007 when the two sides launched negotiations. The agreement is the EU's first in Asia.

"The free trade agreement that we have concluded with Korea is very much the model of the type of trade agreement that we would very much wish also to be able to conclude with other Asian countries," said Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

Garcia Bercero was Brussels' chief negotiator for the deal that will eliminate 98.7 percent of duties on trade between South Korea and the 27-member EU, which is the world's largest economic bloc, within five years.

Trade between the two sides totaled $92.2 billion last year, a gain of 17 percent from 2009 when global trade shrank in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Garcia Bercero called the agreement with Seoul "the most important free trade agreement that has been negotiated so far by the European Union."

The EU ranks as South Korea's fourth-largest trading partner behind China, Southeast Asia and Japan, according to South Korean statistics. The U.S. is South Korea's fifth-largest trading partner.

Garcia Bercero said that the EU is currently negotiating agreements with India and Singapore.

"We are currently at the very important stage of our negotiations with India," he said. "I hope we will be able to successfully conclude them. Of course this is not yet a given."

Talks with Singapore, meanwhile, are "also very advanced," he said, adding that he was "relatively confident" they can be concluded this year.

He said a process has also begun toward free trade talks with Japan, Asia's second-largest economy.

The EU and Japan agreed at a summit last month to start free trade negotiations to be preceded by what their leaders called a "scoping exercise" to ensure that both sides share the same goals and level of ambition.

South Korea has been aggressive in pursuing free trade agreements and has deals in force with India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, among others.

A deal with the United States, however, remains unratified in both countries despite negotiations having initially been concluded before those with the EU began.

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