The European Union agreed on Thursday (16 September) to sign a free-trade pact with South Korea and grant Pakistan trade concessions after floods.
The agreement on trade issues was a boost for the EU meeting, where leaders discussed ways to enhance the bloc's role in global affairs and in particular its relations with emerging powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea.
In an early success at the meeting, member states secured Italy's backing for the free-trade pact with South Korea, reaching a compromise to delay by six months the introduction of an agreement that Rome fears could hurt its car industry.
Italy was the most outspoken EU country regarding the threat to its economy posed by the EU agreement with Korea if the existing terms were maintained.
Fiat, Italy's biggest carmaker, is a direct competitor of Korean carmakers in the small and cheap vehicle market. In the first semester of 2010, Fiat's car sales in Europe dropped by almost 10%.
"This is the first generation of bilateral trade agreements which will bind Europe and Asia together in an ever-closer economic bond. This is a very big step in opening markets in Asia for our companies," said Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, whose country is currently holding the EU presidency for six months.
EU officials say the agreement will create about 19 billion euros ($25 billion) of new exports for EU producers and combined EU-South Korea trade in goods was worth about 53 billion euros in 2009, according to EU figures.
The details will be determined in the coming weeks, with the European Commission working with the World Trade Organization to finalise how it would be implemented and ensure trade rules are not violated.
The deal is due to be signed at an EU-South Korea summit in Brussels on 6 October and will come into force from 1 July 2011.
Concessions to Pakistan
The 27 member states agreed to grant trade concessions to Pakistan but the Commission will have to work with the World Trade Organisation to finalise how they will be implemented and ensure trade rules are not violated.
"We want to give maximum support, more aid and more trade. We want Pakistan to recover now," Van Rompuy said, referring to the devastating floods in Pakistan.
Although there was no detailed discussion of efforts to reform EU budget rules, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin would not agree to an extension of a safety net set up to protect eurozone countries that needed a bailout.
This means work on reform of the 16-country euro zone will continue after a task force led by Van Rompuy presents its recommendations on reforms next month. The Commission will present its own proposals on 29 September.
The EU agreed in May on a one trillion dollar rescue mechanism for indebted countries and states have agreed to submit budget plans for early review by the Commission and other governments.
Pressure is growing for more emphasis on controlling debt levels, particularly among the 16 countries that use the euro, and for tougher and earlier sanctions on budget sinners.
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)