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The 15th meeting of the Joint Committee between the European Union (EU) and the Republic of Korea (RoK) was held in Seoul on Thursday 13 December 2018, two months after the EU-RoK summit, which took place in Brussels on 19 October 2018, and in the year when the EU and the RoK celebrate the 55th anniversary of their bilateral relations.
The Republic of Korea is a strategic partner of the EU, the only one in Asia, with bonds built on agreements covering political, economic relations and trade, and security cooperation. The Joint Committee provided an opportunity to review dialogues and cooperation in detail, in particular the two new specialised working groups, on counterterrorism and on energy, environment and climate change. The EU-RoK partnership is becoming deeper and stronger and the Joint Committee identified areas of enhanced cooperation.
Recognising the important contribution made by the RoK to the conduct of the EU NAVFOR ATALANTA mission, off the coast of Somalia, both sides decided to step up security cooperation, reflecting the EU Council Conclusions on Enhancing EU Security Cooperation in and with Asia. The Joint Committee followed up on the bilateral dialogue on cyber security policy and on the specialised working group on counterterrorism.
On global challenges, both partners reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based international order, free and fair trade and their rejection of protectionism, as well as their wish to enhance cooperation in international fora including the UN, the WTO and the G20. Both sides also agreed to strengthen their cooperation on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, including in the framework of the COP24-Katowice, taking concrete steps, such as the initialisation of the new SPIPA (Strategic Partnerships for the implementation of the Paris Agreement) project between the EU and the RoK, and progress towards the EU joining the GGGI (Global Green Growth Institute).
The Joint Committee agreed to step up EU-RoK development cooperation on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implementation and in Africa and ASEAN countries in the framework of their policy dialogue on development, including humanitarian assistance. Both partners agreed to cooperate more closely on human rights in international fora, including follow-up of UNGA 73 and preparation of HRC 40.
On trade and investment, the discussions focussed on the functioning of the EU-RoK FTA, which has been successful for both sides but would benefit from modernisation. The two parties took note of the state of play regarding sanitary and phyto-sanitary, intellectual property rights and trade and sustainable development issues. On the latter point, the EU strongly called for the respect of core ILO principles of freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, and the ratification of four outstanding fundamental ILO core conventions, emphasising the commitments in the trade agreement on international labour standards and agreements. The RoK explained that this was included in the current government’s policy agenda and continuous efforts were being made in this regard. These issues will be considered further at the Ministerial-level Trade Committee, planned for April 2019.
On sectoral cooperation, both sides agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation on connectivity, in light of the recent EU strategy "Connecting Europe to Asia" and to establish a new policy dialogue on transport. They addressed the process for signature and conclusion of the RoK-EU Horizontal Aviation Agreement. They also agreed to step up on clusters following the conclusion of the RoK-EU administrative arrangement and to prepare the first policy dialogue on small and middle-sized enterprises (SMEs). Regarding research, innovation and ICT cooperation, the Joint Committee laid the ground for the first EU-RoK high level dialogue on digital economy and engaged in an exchange of information on policies and cooperation in the area of research and innovation. They also addressed the state of play on the process towards future adequacy decisions on privacy laws, in line with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Taxation and financial cooperation were also discussed, including anti money laundering, and so were the follow-up to the signature of the RoK-EU Joint Statement on the prevention, deterrence and elimination of IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing, cooperation on global ocean governance, the RoK's participation in the Erasmus+ programme and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions and possible cooperation on labour-related and social issues, in particular social dialogue.
Finally, the Joint Committee discussed means to increase cultural cooperation in the fields of performing arts, city-to-city cooperation, links between arts, science and technology, architecture and other cultural and creative sectors.
The Republic of Korea delegation was led by Mr Kang-Hyeon Yun, Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The EU delegation was led by Mr Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director of the Asia and Pacific Department of the European External Action Service, and 20 EU Member States attended the meeting as observers.
The EU-Republic of Korea Joint Committee will next meet in 2019 in Brussels.