EU Rejects Inter-Korean Industrial Zone

Korea Times

The European Union shunned South Korea’s request to include goods made in an inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea in a potential free trade agreement between the two sides, Seoul’s chief negotiator said.

South Korea launched free trade talks with the 27-country economic bloc in Seoul in May, only a month after it successfully concluded similar trade talks with the United States. A second round of South Korea-EU free trade talks began in Brussels on Monday.

“The EU side told us that it’s difficult for trade negotiators to deal with the Gaeseong issue because it’s complex legally and politically,” Deputy Trade Minister Kim Han-soo told reporters on the third day of the five-day negotiations this week, referring to the South Korean-built industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong.

But the EU left open the possibility of a compromise, depending on the progress both sides will make in upcoming meetings, Kim said.

Before the second round began, Kim had expressed optimism over the Gaeseong issue.

“The Gaeseong issue is one of our top priorities. So we will keep pushing the EU to accept our request,” he said.

South Korea considers the industrial park, located just north of the world’s most heavily fortified border, to be a model for inter-Korean economic cooperation. About 15,000 North Korean workers are employed by 23 South Korean companies, producing garments, kitchenware and a number of other goods.

The industrial park is one of the prominent symbols of inter-Korean reconciliation efforts following a landmark summit in 2000 between then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Gaeseong matter was one of thorniest issues during the 10 months of tough negotiations between South Korea and the U.S., but the two sides made an artful compromise, allowing them to discuss the issue later, depending on progress in international efforts to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim and his European counterpart, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, director of bilateral trade relations at the European Commission, are leading the negotiations to move a deal forward between South Korea and the EU.

This week’s talks were centered on the pace of tariff reductions on automobiles. The EU asked South Korea to phase out its 8 percent tariff on auto imports within three years, instead of the seven years suggested by Seoul. according to a South Korean delegate who asked not to be named.

Other potential sticking points in the negotiations are South Korea’s protective pharmaceuticals and cosmetics markets. In addition, the EU wants better access to South Korea’s services market, particularly for law firms and hospitals, Kim said earlier.

Some progress has been reported, as the EU agreed to soften its anti-dumping rules for South Korean goods.

“So far, talks have been underway at a pace that we expected,” Kim told reporters. However, he admitted this week’s negotiations were aimed at clarifying each side’s positions, rather than bargaining.

No discussion was held on the agriculture sector. South Korea initially offered to exclude some 250 agricultural products such as rice, pork and chicken.

Officials at the EU delegation were unavailable for comment.

The EU is the second-largest trading partner of South Korea, with US$79 billion in bilateral trade in 2006. Unofficial studies suggest a deal would boost the figure by as much as 40 percent.

A third round of talks was scheduled for September in Brussels.


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