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South Korea EU

EU-Korea Public Diplomacy Conference

21 February 2013

On 21 February 2013 the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the EU-Korea Institute at VUB and ISIS Europe jointly held a conference on ‘EU-Korea Public Diplomacy’.

Part of the conference was a workshop on ‘The FTA in action: lessons learned, challenges ahead’. The workshop was chaired by Prof. Dr Bart Kerremans from KU Leuven. The speakers were Prof. Dr Werner Pascha from Duisburg-Essen University, Prof. Dr James Mathis from the University of Amsterdam, Seung-ho Kim , Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Korean Embassy to Belgium and the EU, and Peter Berz, Head of Unit Far East from DG Trade at the European Commission.

Prof. Pascha gave an overview of the FTA’s achievements so far. EU exports to Korea had risen, especially in areas with significant liberalisation. Korean exports to the EU had fallen due to the financial crisis but were recently recovering. Shortly after the FTA’s implementation the imports of Korean cars into the EU had risen, but now there was no further deterioration visible. In general, the implementation had been smooth and successful. Challenges ahead were to develop EU-Korea relations as a visible showpiece for successful EU and Korean international diplomacy cooperation, to make further progress on non tariff barriers, to widen participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and to develop joint regulation and standardization.

Prof. Mathis compared the regulatory cooperation for trade in services in the EU and US trade agreements with Korea. From a lawyer’s perspective, both agreements were “light and compatible”, he concluded, and included “few legal presumptions, few legal tests”. According to the WTO, ‘deep integration’ would be the driver of new partnership and trade agreements. The question arose whether these two FTAs (KORUS and KOREU) were already an example of such deep integration and what their influence on future agreements would be.

Seung-ho Kim showed that in many sectors covered by the FTA the trade volume had increased and that the majority of trading companies had found the FTA helpful. Simultaneously, Korea had declared to be a strategic partner of the EU, and political cooperation had widened under the high level political dialogue and through the establishment of the Korea-EU Forum and a Korean Cultural Center. Kim viewed other FTAs between Korea and partner states as inspired by KOREU. There were further challenges in maximising benefits from the FTA and expanding the exports qualifying for preferential tariff.

Peter Berz highlighted the benefits of the FTA for both the EU and Korea and stressed the importance of KOREU, being the most ambitious, most comprehensive and deepest FTA the EU had concluded so far. The FTA would have to be adjusted after Croatia’s accession to the EU on 1 July 2013. Over the next seven years, tariffs would be further liberalized and a new framework for financial services would be completed by Korea in July.

The discussion brought up questions about the EU’s capability to cope with an increasing number of FTAs and increasing involvement in them and the role of SMEs in the FTAs.

Roundtable on ‘The Future of EU-Korea Relations’

In the evening, a roundtable was held on ‘The Future of EU-Korea Relations’. The roundtable was chaired by Prof. Dr Jan Wouters from KU Leuven. Speakers were Prof. Dr François Godement from Sciences Po, Herbert Reul, Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula at the European Parliament, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the EU Chang-Beom Kim, and Viorel Isticioaia Budura, Managing Director for Asia at the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Prof. Godement spoke about the FTA between Korea and the EU being a sign that obstacles could be overcome despite many difficulties. Europe was not a significant hard power in Asia and Korea did not have the kind of footing in Europe that Japan or China had. The EU had been obsessed by North Korea but was not strong enough to impose anything but sanctions. Godement further said the EU had the duty to outline how the EU modestly found solutions to historic problems and how the EU could help with regional institution-building.  It would be important for the EU to foster Korea’s pride in contributing to global norms.

Herbert Reul spoke about the FTA between Korea and the EU and its achievements so far. He found a re-examination at the launch of EU-US FTA negotiations useful. Regarding North Korea, he said it was a challenge for all states and expressed pessimism towards Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons and the attempts of the international community to end North Korea’s nuclear programme. In the future, China might have an enormous impact on North Korea, and constructive dialogue and cooperation would be important.

Ambassador Kim commended the current excellent state of EU-Korea relations. He said near-term challenges were the development of a genuinely strategic partnership between Korea and the EU, the operationalization of the current framework agreement, and the smooth and full implementation of the FTA. Mid- and long-term challenges were rather seen as opportunities, such as going beyond an FTA, starting joint initiatives to tackle common challenges, and, most important, promoting regional integration in North East Asia.

Mr Isticioaia Budura said there were real possibilities for cooperation between the EU and Korea. The EU could offer knowledge and experience with historical reconciliation, both sides could share expertise in green growth and energy, and the EU could help with the building of more efficient multilateral structures to overcome challenges of the past and present. He further emphasised the role of institution-building and ASEAN. He said closer cooperation with ASEAN in the future was possible after the EU had acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN.

The discussion centred around the role of EU member states in developing the strategic partnership, the role of SMEs, the reunification of Korea, and the cooperation between Korea and the EU on international law.