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German ambassador supports modernizing EU-Korea FTA

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German Ambassador to Korea Michael Reiffenstuel, sixth from right; former Korean Ambassador Choi Seok-young, fifth from right; European Chamber of Commerce in Korea Chairperson Dirk Lukat, fourth from right; and Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Martin Henkelmann, third from right, pose for a photo during the '10 Years Anniversary of EU-Korea FTA: Updating and Modernizing a Successful Trade Deal' event at the Millennium Hilton Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry
German Ambassador to Korea Michael Reiffenstuel, sixth from right; former Korean Ambassador Choi Seok-young, fifth from right; European Chamber of Commerce in Korea Chairperson Dirk Lukat, fourth from right; and Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Martin Henkelmann, third from right, pose for a photo during the '10 Years Anniversary of EU-Korea FTA: Updating and Modernizing a Successful Trade Deal' event at the Millennium Hilton Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and the German Embassy in Korea, together with the Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KGCCI) and the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea (ECCK), held an event to commemorate the occasion, seeking to update and upgrade the trade deal to keep up with the times.

In 2011, Korea and the European Union implemented the exemplary trade deal, and Korea became the EU's first Asian partner to ink an FTA. The FTA has proven to be successful for both partners, fostering a high level of market liberalization, and served as a platform for bilateral trade and investment. The amount of trade between the EU and Korea jumped about 45 percent ― from 60 billion euros to 90 billion euros ― in the past 10 years.

German Ambassador to Korea Michael Reiffenstuel said that the EU-Korea FTA stands out as a clear symbol against protectionism.

"It underlines both the EU and Korea's strong commitment to a rules-based international trade order. Therefore, the 10th anniversary is a reason to celebrate. But it is also an excellent opportunity to reflect on our trade relations with a future-oriented look," the ambassador said during the event, titled "10 Years Anniversary of EU-Korea FTA: Updating and Modernizing a Successful Trade Deal," at the Millennium Hilton Seoul, Tuesday.

"Over the past years, new trade-related areas have evolved and will continue to grow, as we are steadily overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas such as digitization, digital trade and e-commerce are prospering. Many companies in Europe and Korea have voiced their strong support for updating the FTA in relevant fields. We support companies in this endeavor. We are convinced that a modernized FTA would be in the high interest of all parties," the ambassador added.

Martin Henkelmann, president and CEO of KGCCI, also emphasized the need to update the FTA to reflect the fast-changing environment.

"The EU-Korea FTA has been a benchmark for other FTAs and a strong signal of two economic global key players for enhancing the unrestricted exchange of goods. Ten years later, it is the right time to take stock: the global economic environment has changed and the needs of the businesses in Korea and the EU have evolved. A modernized EU-Korea FTA would ― once again ― stand out as a forceful signal for rules-based global trade, which is the foundation for the success of Korean and European companies," Henkelmann said.

ECCK Chairperson and Schenker Korea CEO Dirk Lukat, as well as Robin Hoenig, divisional head of the Trade Policy Competence Centre (Asia/ASEAN) at the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, gave keynote speeches.

Lukat spoke of how the EU-Korea FTA provides broader product variety for both Korean and European consumers, as European wine and beer are easily found in Korean supermarkets, whereas Korean televisions and cars are popular in Europe.

"The world has changed in the last 10 years, and the way we live and do business has changed. A static FTA will over time lose its effectiveness, whereas economic partners and trade among trading partners governed by a more progressive FTA will prosper. Thus, it is my belief that a modernized EU-Korea FTA is needed," Lukat said.

Hoenig gave examples of possible areas of update in the FTA, such as trade formalities and procedures in the rules of origin, as well as digital trade provisions and sectorial annexes addressing non-tariff measures.

During the panel discussion, Choi Seok-young, a former Korean ambassador who led the signing of the EU-Korea FTA and is now a senior adviser at Lee & Ko, mentioned the differences between Korea and the EU despite the satisfactory score card of the deal during the last decade.

"It is a testament of healthy trade relations that both sides have been closely working together on numerous bilateral trade agenda items, such as automobiles, sustainable development, labor issues and rules on steel safeguards, SPS and GIs among others. Both sides should also expand the scope of cooperation beyond the areas of trade and investment to ensure that the playing fields are level," Choi said.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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