EU seeks trade deals with Korea, China

EU leaders push ahead for bilateral deals with China and Korea while Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson keeps up the fight for a multilateral trade pact.

Although leaders pledged to work together to bring multilateral negotiations on trade liberalisation back on track, they also announced that they had agreed to initiate exploratory talks with Korea on a free-trade agreement and to negotiate a new Partnership and Cooperation agreement with China aimed at deepening economic and trade relations. 

These announcements follow an apparent shift – from multilateral to bilateral – in the EU’s trade strategy since the collapse of the Doha Development Round. 

Meanwhile, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson attempted to show his continued commitment to multilateral talks by going to Rio to meet with WTO chief Pascal Lamy, as well as with leaders from Brazil, US and other developing nations, to discuss how to deal with the failure of negotiations. 

After the conference, Mandelson said: “This meeting has given a very clear ‘Yes’ as to whether these talks should resume.” 

He stressed that an agreement must be reached before the US starts to discuss a new agricultural law in 2007, and that the period between the US mid-term elections in November 2006 and March 2007 is therefore crucial if a deal is to be reached. 

“We are at a crucial point in time in our future trade relations” said Commission President Barroso, identifying Korea and China as “key partners” for the EU.

External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said: “Korea is the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner outside Europe… and therefore I think it is very important that we have started exploratory talks towards a free trade arrangement.” 

On China, Barroso said trade relations were likely to improve thanks to Beijing’s move to make it “easier to prosecute intellectual property rights violators in China”, but said that a certain number of clouds remain on the horizon. 

Indeed, despite China's demand to be granted full market economy status, Barroso said China would only win this status once it has addressed certain “weaknesses”, such as excessive state influence and 'immature' financial markets. 

The issue of human rights also remains problematic. China’s Premier Wen insisted that his country had made significant progress in this area, saying: "No country can say they can resolve all the issues related to human rights perfectly," and objecting to the EU's practice of linking "economic and trade issues with the so-called human rights issues". 

High-level EU representatives met with Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in two separate summits in Helsinki on 9 September 2006 to discuss bilateral and international issues, with a particular focus on strengthening trade and economic co-operation. 

Security issues, science and technology, environment and energy were also high on the agenda. 

The EU was represented by Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Prime Minister of Finland and current EU President Matti Vanhanen and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. 

  • 10-11 September 2006: 10th Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki

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