|President Moon Jae-in and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf pose during their meeting at King Saud Palace, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Nam Hyun-woo
RIYADH ― Korea will resume talks for a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the first quarter of this year, nearly 12 years after negotiations were halted with the alliance of six Middle Eastern countries, Cheong Wa Dae said, Wednesday (local time).
On the occasion of President Moon Jae-in's visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries agreed to resume their talks for the agreement, with Korea's Minister for Trade Yeo Han-koo and GCC Secretary General Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf announcing the decision.
During a meeting with Al-Hajraf, Moon said a potential free trade agreement between the two sides will increase mutual benefits in the fields of goods, service, investment, intellectual property and energy, and asked the secretary general to ramp up his efforts to facilitate an outcome which could be satisfactory for both sides.
"Korea and member countries of the GCC have economic structures that complement each other, and they have achieved economic progress and prosperity through reciprocal partnerships," Moon said. "The cooperation between the two sides is now expanding to various fields including healthcare, science, technology, defense, info-tech and intellectual property. The partnership is now entering the next dimension."
The GCC is a political and economic alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
GCC member nations are Korea's key trading partners in the Middle East. Korea's trade with GCC member countries totaled $46.6 billion in 2020, accounting for 78 percent of Seoul's total trade with the region.
Since 2007, Korea and the GCC have been negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement and held three rounds of official talks. But there has not been any progress since January 2010, when the GCC halted its talks with not only Korea but also Japan, China, the European Union and the U.S.
Cheong Wa Dae said the two countries will resume their talks in the first quarter of this year, aiming to wrap up the negotiations as soon as possible. Korea will appoint Lee Kyung-sik, a senior negotiator at Korea's trade ministry, as its representative in the talks.
A free trade agreement with the GCC is expected to become a turning point for Korea to strengthen its foothold in the areas of trade and investment in the Middle East. The pact is also anticipated to serve as a gateway for Korean exports to Europe and Africa.
During his meeting with the secretary general, Moon noted efforts by GCC member nations to diversify their oil-dependent industrial portfolio and nurture future-oriented businesses such as hydrogen, renewable energy and healthcare, and said such endeavors will offer an opportunity to enhance their ties with Korea.
The secretary general echoed Moon's idea, lauding Korea's experience and technologies in manufacturing, renewable energy and biopharmaceutical industries, and promised to enhance the GCC's ties with Korea.
"Under the single goal of regional security and stability, Korea and the GCC have developed special relations, which are reciprocal to each other," the secretary general said. "Based on a 2014 MOU between the two sides, the mutual cooperation has been progressing. … And we seek to prepare a next step toward the future."
In 2014, the two sides signed an MOU on strategic dialogue.
|President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during the Korea-Saudi Arabia Investment Forum at a hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday (local time). Yonhap|