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14 July 2009

Korea, EU get closer to FTA deal

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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday negotiations for a South Korea-EU free trade agreement (FTA) have been concluded and called on negotiators to quickly sign the accord, state news agency Yonhap reported.

"We two leaders welcomed the final agreement on the Korea-EU FTA," Lee said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden, which holds the six-month rotating EU presidency until the end of this year.

"We agreed the Korea-EU FTA will be an important opportunity for South Korea and the EU, as it will create new opportunities for both of their economies and send a strong message to the world to fight trade protectionism," Lee said.

Reinfeldt, too, noted the proposed accord will bring "new opportunities for growth in exports" when signed.

"I expressed hope that the Korea-EU FTA can be concluded during the Swedish presidency (of the EU)," he said in the press conference that followed a bilateral summit with Lee.

An official accompanying the South Korean president said earlier that Seoul and the executive body of the EU had reached an agreement on the final draft of the proposed FTA. The EU's Article 133 Committee, which handles the bloc's major trade policies, including FTAs, approved the final draft on Friday.

"There is no longer any opposition to the Korea-EU FTA, so Monday's declaration by the two heads of state (Lee and Reinfeldt) of the end of negotiations will be, in fact, a declaration that a final deal has been struck," the official told reporters, asking not to be identified.

The two leaders did not say explicitly that the sides have struck an agreement.

"There might still be some outstanding questions. We need to follow up on those questions," Reinhardt said.

The South Korean official said this is because the EU's announcement of a deal must be made by the European Commission, the executive body of the EU.

The European Commission has agreed to skip a separate declaration ceremony, apparently acknowledging Monday's announcement by Lee and Reinfeldt as the official announcement of the accord, according to the official.

South Korea and the EU have already agreed to begin their legal reviews and initial the document in September.

It is expected to be formally signed near the end of the year or early next year after the accord is put into the 23 different languages used in the EU's 27 member nations for their final review, he said.


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