EU and South Korea sign free trade deal, despite European carmakers’ fear of cheap imports

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

EU, South Korea sign free trade deal

BRUSSELS — The European Union and South Korea signed a free trade pact on Wednesday, cutting billions of dollars in industrial and agricultural duties despite EU carmakers’ fears of a surge in cheap imports.

The deal should come into force on July 1, 2011 but still needs the approval of the EU parliament. European carmakers are hoping lawmakers will ensure safeguards for their industry. Italy, were Fiat is based, long held up the agreement to get such guarantees.

The pact, three years in the making, was signed Wednesday at an EU-South Korea summit and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called it “by far the most important trade deal ever concluded by the European Union with one country.”

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the “free trade agreement will have great economic benefits” for both sides.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the deal. “We must put trade absolutely at the heart of the relations that the EU is building with the wider world. The EU-South Korea free trade agreement will be good for Europe and good for Britain,” he said in a statement.

“It will make a great difference not just in terms of encouraging growth and trade with Korea today, but also in laying the ground for further free trade agreements between Europe and other countries, including India, in the future,” Cameron said.

The next challenge, however, will be to get it through the EU legislature ahead of next summer — the car industry, which already has a huge trade deficit with Korea, will be looking for more effective measures to protect itself from cheaper imports from Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors.

South Korea exported 303,205 vehicles to the EU in 2009, according to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association. By contrast, EU automakers exported only 40,097 vehicles to South Korea.

Overall, the EU is South Korea’s second-largest export destination, and the Asian country is the bloc’s eighth largest trade partner, according to figures from the European Commission. EU trade with South Korea exceeded €65 billion ($84 billion) in 2008.

The European Commission estimates the deal will see the elimination of €1.6 billion ($2.1 billion) worth of industrial and agricultural duties for European exporters to South Korea. The EU will cut some €1.1 billion of duties for Korean importers.

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