Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea

Building bridges between the EU and South Korea

21/09/2017 - 10:59
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Speech by Cecilia Malmström European Commissioner for Trade The EU-Korea Business Forum Seoul, 21 September 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

The success of South Korea is a testament to the transformative power of trade.

The country arose from the rubble of a war at a time when the average citizen could claim just a couple of hundred dollars a year in income.

Just a few decades later, Korea is one of the world's biggest economies, a technology leader, and home to world leading companies.

Companies whose brands appear in homes, offices, pockets around the world.

Companies whose investments create jobs around the world.

Though eight thousand kilometres away, you are one of our top ten partners in the goods trade…

… and a leading partner in services and investment.

This is thanks to the dynamism and dedication of the Korean people.

Here, as in other parts of the globe, openness to trade and investment has helped the country develop…

… has helped its people rise up and emerge into a world of opportunity.


The free-trade agreement we struck with Korea, now in force for 6 years, was one of the first and most ambitious of a new generation of EU trade deals.

By trade value, it eliminated 98.7% of the customs duties between us.

It tackles non-tariff barriers in areas like cars, electronics, chemicals and medicines. For example, cutting the cumbersome and costly need for duplicate testing.

It was, at the time, our most ambitious agreement ever for the services trade: opening sectors from telecoms to finance, law to shipping…

… and extending access to procurement markets.


It worked.

The EU's exports to Korea have risen 55% - giving Korean people and businesses more choice at lower prices.

Helping businesses on both sides fit better into global value chains.

The agreement means business on both sides, of all sizes, can explore new markets while Koreans and Europeans can enjoy more products from more companies.

Handmade violins from Cremona in Italy, once the home of Antonio Stradivarius, now able to sell directly and more competitively in Korea.

Polish chokeberries – the superfood said to have a super effect on health; which Korean people can now also benefit from.

And new technologies: as many as 20,000 banks in Korea have card-printing machines from Evolis, based in Angers, in France.

You, too, can now enjoy premium quality brands like champagne, Parma ham, or around 160 other European products, and know you are getting the real, authentic deal.

Just as in Europe we can now enjoy delicacies like Hoengseong Hanwoo Beef, or Boseong green tea, benefiting from similar protections.

Korea's exports to the EU have also risen. Even at a time when EU imports overall fell, following the economic crisis.

And trade in services between us has also seen a huge boost: rising by almost 50%, exports rocketing for both sides.

Perhaps even more than trade in goods, this shows how the trade agreement has created deep and lasting integration between us.

Today, the EU is the largest investor in your country, ahead of even the U.S. and Japan.

The EU represents one dollar in five of Korea's foreign direct investment.

And EU affiliates employ nearly 100,000 people in South Korea.


So it's a good deal that brought our countries closer. But the EU's trade deal with South Korea does not sit in isolation.

It is part of a programme of progressive trade policy that we are promoting.

Trade that is open, and effective for the modern age.

Trade that is based on our values.

Trade that allows us to benefit from new opportunities. Without having to compromise on our democratic decision-making or our high standards of protection.

Trade that helps us shape globalisation. Giving us a seat at the table when the rules are made, so that we can ensure trade is truly for all.

That is the philosophy we have for our trade policy.

Our trade agreement with Korea was perhaps the first in that series. But it is something we are taking to the world.

Our trade agreement with Canada comes into provisional effect today. As I speak, the first shipments of goods benefiting from these tariffs are crossing the Atlantic.

They represent just a fraction of the 500 million euros in tariff savings EU exporters could enjoy.

Now we also have an agreement in principle with Japan, one of the world's largest economies.

We are making good progress in our negotiations with Mexico and Mercosur, in South America.

And we are launching talks with Australia and New Zealand: we published the proposal for a negotiating mandate last week.


For Korea, as for Canada, or for any trade agreement, the work is not finished the day it comes into effect.

Trade deals must be implemented.

Like any relationship, trade needs ongoing feedback and ongoing attention.

We continue to work to identify and resolve the obstacles exporters face on the ground.

Last year we were able to resolve many barriers with South Korea: in areas from cars, to cosmetics, to cheese.  And I thank the Korean authorities for their cooperation in resolving these.

I hope we will continue to work together in this way.

And we continue to talk to businesses to get their views on how the agreement is operating. We are today showcasing the results of that work.

Those we interviewed and surveyed had a very positive assessment of the agreement: they agree it has led to investment, innovation, integration.

This means companies upgrading their products, and expanding their reach.

It means more jobs and more opportunity.

Of course — we've also been informed of areas where we can improve. How, for example, we can improve procedures or streamline paperwork.

And it is our ongoing commitment to make this agreement work for all sides.



Our trade agreement also includes provisions on sustainable development.

These are not an optional add-on, but an integral part of the agreement…

… an essential element of the deeper relations that the agreement aims to promote.

These measures ensure trade does not come at the cost of the environment, or of people's rights.

They respond to the growing recognition that trade must be based on values, not undercutting them.

They create commitments that are binding, and enforceable.

And those commitments are monitored: not just us, your partners…

… but by civil society, meeting in the groups and forums created by the agreement.

Unfortunately, even after 6 years, Korea has made limited progress on some of these commitments.

The EU has real concerns about Korea's respect for fundamental principles of labour rights: including the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organisation need to be ratified. Those that have been ratified need to be effectively implemented.

This is a concern raised by civil society right here in Korea but also worry European stakeholders including the European Parliament.

It is also a concern I have raised personally with the Minister, under the previous government.

And I am doing so again during my visit here.

I hope that the Korean government will pay heed to these calls and recommendations from all these sources.

Our approach is and remains based on dialogue and cooperation.

We stand ready to work with you, and engage with the new government, to help you fulfil these obligations, supporting trade while supporting rights.


These trade agreements that we sign are about removing tariff and technical barriers, they are about boosting opportunities, they are about promoting standards.

But they are also a symbol.

In today's world we see the rising risk of protectionism.

These are dangerous trends for any open economy, any open society.

Yet many parts of the world still realise that open, rules-based trade holds the key to our prosperity and progress.

Many people realise that protectionism offers no protection.

I know Korea is one such place.

So is the EU.

So like-minded partners need to stay together. We are reaching out to all those likeminded partners: to Canada, Mexico, Japan, and many more.

We are offering the continuing chance of free and fair trade that can help our economies to grow, now and long into the future.

We are looking to work with likeminded partners to shape globalisation, so it works for everyone.

When others are looking to build walls, we are ready to build bridges.

I am proud to stand with South Korea in that common goal.

Thank you.


Biography of Speakers


2017 EU-Korea Business Forum Programme


Presentation by Experts

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