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EU Targets Free Trade Deals Under Swedish Presidency

by Ulrika Lomas, Tax-News.com, Brussels

05 June 2009


Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Björling and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton have met in Stockholm to discuss trade priorities for the upcoming Swedish presidency of the European Union.

According to a European Commission statement, Björling and Ashton expressed their “strong commitment” to completing a range of important bilateral trade deals with third countries, including an ambitious free trade agreement with South Korea. They also discussed the increasing importance of the Doha Round of world trade talks in the current economic downturn.

Björling said: “In this present time of economic downturn it is more important than ever to make real progress on a number of important trade issues. I am looking forward to work closely with the Commission on important free trade agreements with South Korea, the GCC, Central America, the Andean countries and other regions, and on moving the Doha Round forward. This is an essential step on the road to economic recovery.”

Ashton added: “I welcome the strong backing of the upcoming Swedish presidency for our positive trade agenda. Our first priority is to close the ambitious and valuable free trade agreement with South Korea. I believe that we can solve the outstanding issues and get a deal that will benefit a wide range of European industries.”

EU and South Korean leaders have affirmed that they are seeking an “early conclusion” to free trade negotiations following their summit in Seoul on May 23. While a tentative free trade deal has been reached that would eliminate 97% of tariffs on trade in goods and services between the two territories, negotiations have hit a snag over the issue of duty drawbacks. However, both sides are confident that a final deal can be struck by the year's end.

The EU considers that the FTA currently under negotiation with South Korea is part of a “new generation” of trade agreements that focus on countries offering a high exporting potential, but also considerable barriers to entry.

Total trade in goods and services between South Korea and the EU reached some EUR75bn in 2007 and the Asian country is the EU’s 4th largest trading partner outside Europe.

Björling and Ashton also discussed the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization and Russian export duties on timber, which are set to rise from 25% to 80% from September 2009.

Other topics broached included the fight against protectionism, the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade, and the Economic Partnership Agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.


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