EU to open markets to South Korea in July 2011
By Matej Hruska
EU member states have clinched a compromise on the provisional application of a free trade agreement with South Korea, giving Italy an additional six months to prepare its auto industry for the opening-up of the EU market.
"It is a very big step in opening markets in Asia for our companies and this will create prosperity and jobs, of course in Korea, but also in Europe," Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said on Thursday (16 September) during a press conference in Brussels.
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EU foreign ministers agreed that the deal should enter into force on 1 July 2011, provided that the European Parliament gives its consent to the package, which includes a safeguard clause on protecting vulnerable European companies.
The deal, described by Mr Vanackere as the "first new generation style agreement" and "the most ambitious [EU trade] agreement ever," is to be signed during an EU-South Korea summit in Brussels on 6 October.
The Belgian diplomat added that the Korean side would have preferred an earlier date for entry into force and described the July 2011 outcome as a result of "intense negotiations" between member states.
Italy had in recent days threatened to veto the deal if it stuck its original terms of entry into force at the beginning of next year.
Under the agreement, both sides will have to eliminate 98.7 percent of duties in the industrial and agricultural within the next five years. Implementation of the deal will be overseen by a trade committee, which will report to a joint EU-Korean body.
The member states have to find a compromise with the European Parliament on a special bilateral safeguard clause before the EU-Korea summit.
The parliament, which in a new development under the Lisbon Treaty holds the role of co-legislator on trade pacts, at its September session in Strasbourg postponed its vote on the pact due to disagreement with member states.
Outstanding issues cover a so-called regional clause demanded by MEPs, enabling special protection for European firms in regions with high unemployment, for example, and the parliament's right to initiate an investigation into negative fallout from the trade deal.
Mr Vanackere said on Thursday that negotiations with the parliament should take place before the end of the month.