The European Union, South Korea stumble in talks on free trade deal


SEOUL — South Korea and the European Union finished a week of talks on a free trade deal Friday with the EU saying Seoul is too protective and not as ambitious as it was in striking a deal with the United States.

The two are trying to reach a deal by the end of the year that some studies said would boost their US$80 billion a year in annual trade by about 25 percent. But previous rounds have hit snags over lowering tariffs, especially on cars.

“I am particularly disappointed that Korea appears to have taken a very defensive approach to tariff negotiations of the industrial sector,” Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the chief EU negotiator, told a news conference.

If South Korea strikes a deal with the EU — its second-largest two-way trading partner after China — it would be larger than a free trade agreement Seoul reached in April with the United States after 10 months of talks, experts said.

“We have been concerned that the offer presented by Korea does not have the serious level of ambition and it is also less serious than the one that Korea has agreed with the U.S.,” the EU envoy said.

South Korea’s chief envoy Kim Han-soo agreed it was a difficult session, with “big differences in how to proceed with the negotiations.”

But both envoys said they thought progress could be made.

Brussels wants more access to Korea’s growing markets in automobiles, manufactured goods and business services and fewer regulatory barriers in sectors such as electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Kim said: “We were able to realize that there is a significant difference in perception regarding automobiles.”

South Korea has some of the lowest import auto penetration levels in the developed world due to tariffs and barriers that tilt the market in favor of domestic makers, foreign car makers have said.

The next round of talks will be held in Brussels from Nov. 19.