EU envoy makes push for passage of trade deal

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EU envoy makes push for passage of trade deal

The European Union’s top envoy to Seoul stressed yesterday that the world’s largest economic bloc is “ready” to put a free trade pact with Korea into effect “as soon as possible,” dismissing the recent backlash from Korea’s opposition parties as an internal matter to be resolved in Seoul.

Time is running out for Korea as it agreed to implement the FTA, which was signed last year, on July 1. The European Parliament approved the deal in February but prospects for ratification in Korea’s National Assembly remain murky amid political disputes over translation errors and possible damage to the country’s agricultural sector.

In its latest show of disapproval, a subcommittee of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs and trade committee voted down a related motion on Friday. It is scheduled to be presented to the plenary session today for further discussions.

But it remained unclear whether the National Assembly will be able to sort out issues regarding translation errors in the agreement’s Korean-language text and concerns about the FTA’s negative impact on local farmers to ratify the FTA within this month.

“I don’t want to comment on your internal procedures, on your political process. This is up to you,” Tomasz Kozlowski, ambassador of the EU delegation to Seoul, said at a meeting with reporters. “We are ready, we delivered and we are waiting. Everything depends on your side. We are not part of this process whatsoever.”

“Of course, we would be very happy to implement this FTA as soon as possible. But this is a sovereign decision by Korea,” he said.

Stressing the benefits of the deal for both sides, the envoy said the agreement would give Korean firms a competitive edge over other Asian nations in tapping the “largest market in the world,” with 500 million consumers.

Equally, the trade pact carries special significance for the EU as the “first so deep and comprehensive FTA ever signed with a third country,” Kozlowski said. “This FTA was signed by two parts, equal partners. Both sides should be ready,” he said. “But this is a question of considerations, how you perceive your interests.”

EU studies suggest that bilateral trade with Korea will more than double in the next 20 years thanks to the FTA.

Two-way trade in merchandise amounted to more than 53.5 billion euros ($77 billion) in 2009, with Korea enjoying a surplus of some 10.5 billion euros, according to EU data.

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