The EU and South Korea are very close to establishing a free trade zone and expect to finalize a deal in March, AP business writer Kelly Olsen reports.


The European Union and South Korea said Tuesday that they have moved closer to a free trade agreement, though another round of negotiations was required to overcome “complex and complicated” issues standing in the way of a deal.  “We have made significant progress,” EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said at a joint news conference with her South Korean counterpart Kim Jong-hoon. Kim said that the two sides had “confirmed that we narrowed the gap on the major issues and reached a considerable level of consensus.”

The trade chiefs spoke after two days of ministerial-level talks focused on five areas, including tariffs, rules of origin and non-tariff measures in automobile trade, according to Kim. Seven rounds of formal negotiations at the chief negotiator level since May 2007 have failed to yield an agreement.  “We have issues to be addressed that are inevitably complex and complicated,” Ashton said without elaborating. Kim also refrained from providing details on matters that were discussed other than to say that the two sides were finding it difficult to resolve a complex issue related to import taxation.

Still, both sides said another round of negotiations was set for early March.  “I expect that the March negotiation will be the last round, and I hope that Madam Ashton shares this expectation,” Kim said in answering a reporter’s question. Ashton did not have an opportunity to respond to the same query.

A similar accord was reached between the U.S. and South Korea in 2007 but “the deal has languished in political limbo in both countries and awaits ratification in their legislatures.”