South Korea will seek to finalize a free trade deal with the European Union (EU) at an early date as negotiations are in their last stage, Yonhap News reported quoting a trade official Wednesday.
Since the signing of an FTA with the United States in 2007, South Korea has held seven rounds of negotiations with the EU, the nation's second-largest trading partner after China.
The negotiations have made little headway, however, as both sides have been reluctant to accept each other's demands on tariff reductions, rules of origin and auto trade and auto-related technical standards.
"At a recent meeting between chief negotiators from both sides, progress has been made," Ahn Ho-young, deputy trade minister, was quoted as saying. "At a minister-level meeting slated for this month, more progress will be made."
In a 2009 policy report to President Lee Myung-bak, the trade ministry said it will strive to seal a free trade agreement (FTA) with the 27-nation economic bloc by the end of the first quarter with the aim of implementing it in 2010.
A date for the eighth round of talks has not yet been set, but trade ministers from both sides are scheduled to meet next month to iron out their differences.
Bilateral trade came to $93.07 billion in 2007, and some unofficial studies suggest an FTA would boost that figure by as much as 40 percent in the long run. The EU is also the largest foreign investor in South Korea, with outstanding investment reaching $43.40 billion at the end of 2007.
The trade ministry also said it will begin free trade negotiations with Australia, Peru, New Zealand, Turkey and Columbia next year in an effort to strengthen its export-oriented economy.
Currently, South Korea has FTAs with Chile, Singapore and the European Free Trade Association, as well as a partial pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Korea-U.S. agreement has been signed but still awaits approval by the legislatures of both nations. Seoul is also seeking similar trade deals with Canada, India and Mexico.