Korea, EU get off to bumpy start in FTA negotiations
Korean and EU negotiators began their fourth round of trade talks in Seoul yesterday with an uncertain start and an ambitious week ahead, as they try to narrow their differences on sensitive issues.
"The first day of talks has not been very satisfying," Kim Han-soo, Korea's chief negotiator, told reporters at a briefing in Seoul. "The EU has expressed a lot more disappointment than us."
Kim emphasized the need to accelerate the pace of talks during this round, which ends Friday, on as many sensitive issues as possible to meet the desired goal of sealing a deal by the end of the year.
A major challenge to both sides this week is narrowing the gap concerning goods concessions, particularly in the sticky area of autos. Korea has so far refused to accept the EU's proposal to apply international standards to its car imports, as opposed to continuing with the redundant domestic ones.
Autos stand as the make-or-break item for EU negotiators in the proposed FTA that would boost two-way trade, which is currently worth $79 billion.
Kim said that Seoul received a new proposal for auto trade from the EU on Saturday. The official said that Korea is still examining it, and is not expected to have anything concrete until Thursday.
A think tank yesterday projected a tough road ahead for Korea and the 27-member economic bloc in talks over agriculture.
The GS&J Institute, a local agriculture market specialist, released a study yesterday highlighting the fact that opening up the EU agricultural market will be more challenging to Korea.
The European Union is expected to emphasize the significant list of "exceptions" it secured in previous FTAs to protect its farming industry, the report said.
It predicts that a strategy for EU negotiators will be to seek different tariff rates for sensitive products. The European Union is characterized as having one of the most protective agricultural markets in the advanced global economy, providing high subsidies for farmers, and having a complicated tariff system and sustained price system.
Many experts had predicted that Korea's trade talks with the EU would be less controversial and challenging than the experience with the United States because Korea and European countries have similarly sensitive agricultural concerns and farming conditions.
The GS&J report advised Korea to emphasize the exceptions which the EU received in previous trade deals when it negotiated on farm goods.
Kim told reporters that sealing a deal by the year's end is "not impossible," but he acknowledged that negotiations will be "tough."
By Yoo Soh-jung
Provided by "THE KOREA HERALD"