Korea, EU Agree to Conclude FTA Early
By Na Jeong-ju
The leaders of South Korea and the European Union (EU) agreed Saturday to work together for an early conclusion of the Korea-EU free trade talks, saying it is essential to upgrading their relations to a strategic partnership.
The agreement was made at a summit of President Lee Myung-bak, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency at Cheong Wa Dae.
They also agreed to work with the international community to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
``Korea and the EU share the view that an early conclusion of the FTA and upgrading the Framework Agreement for Trade and Cooperation, signed by the two sides in 1996, are crucial to developing future-oriented partnership,'' said a joint statement issued at the end of the summit.
They also agreed to increase cooperation on issues related to North Korea's nuclear program, the global economic crisis, climate change, the energy crisis and the United Nations' global peacekeeping programs, the statement said.
South Korea and the EU started negotiations on signing the FTA in May 2007 and are currently trying to resolve the last remaining hurdle to conclude the talks.
It was the first time that the leaders of Korea and EU had gathered since September 2006. The two sides said their relations have developed dynamically in areas of diplomacy, economy and culture and shared the need to take their relations to a higher level, South Korean officials said.
To promote mutual understanding and bilateral exchanges, Korea and the EU will increase cooperation in culture, education and science, they said.
The leaders also urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks aimed at ending the communist regime's nuclear ambitions, saying the recent test-firing of a long-range missile was a threat to regional peace and security.
The North boycotted the multilateral talks and resumed nuclear activities after the United Nations agreed to sanction it because of its missile development. The six countries involved in the nuclear talks are South and North Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
Korea and the EU also warned of rising protectionism in the global economy.
They agreed to work together to ease barriers on global investment and trade, saying they are confident that the planned Korea-EU FTA will be beneficial to both sides, according to the statement.