The European Union and the Republic of Korea note progress in bilateral relations despite Covid-19 at their annual Joint Committee meeting
The 17th meeting of the Joint Committee between the European Union (EU) and the Republic of Korea was held, for the first time via video-link, on 9 February 2021. This was an opportunity to review achievements in bilateral and strategic cooperation and frame further collaboration in the run up to a Summit planned to take place later this year in Seoul.
Since the establishment of the Strategic Partnership in 2010, the EU and the Republic of Korea have deepened and strengthened their relationship. The enhanced partnership rests on a comprehensive set of treaties, namely a Framework Agreement, a Free Trade Agreement, and a Framework Participation Agreement for EU crisis management operations, under which the Republic of Korea contributes to EU Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta. Covering political, economic and trade relations as well as security cooperation, these agreements are implemented through some 40 bilateral committees, working groups and dialogues.
Both partners shared their respective experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. They reaffirmed their commitment to develop next generation vaccines and treatments to tackle the pandemic and respond to possible outbreaks in the future. The partners agreed to strengthen coordination in implementing post-COVID-19 economic recovery strategies with a view to ensuring that they are green, digital, socially inclusive, and based on free and fair trade.
In this context, the EU and the Republic of Korea underlined their will to join forces in implementing the Paris Agreement, including in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, supported by a transition to a circular economy and clean energy. This follows from discussions at a successful third meeting of the bilateral Working Group on Environment, Energy and Climate Change held on 4 February 2021. Regarding research, innovation and ICT cooperation, the partners welcomed opportunities to deepen bilateral exchanges and cooperation under the recently launched EU-Republic of Korea Digital Dialogue, as well as in the area of research and innovation under the framework programme Horizon Europe 2021-2027. The partners discussed the developments in Korean data protection law, which further strengthen convergence between the EU and the Republic of Korea, and welcomed the conclusion of talks on a Data Adequacy Decision at technical level. Both partners also agreed to take forward joint work on connectivity and to hold the first session of the new EU-Republic of Korea Transport Dialogue in the second half of 2021.
On trade and investment, discussions concentrated on the implementation of the EU-Republic of Korea trade agreement. The EU and the Republic of Korea agreed that the trade agreement works well and provides substantial and balanced benefits for both sides. However, in some areas, challenges remain. In particular, the EU called upon the Republic of Korea to continue efforts towards the effective implementation of the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter of the trade agreement.
The EU noted the issuance of the report of the panel of experts appointed in the bilateral dispute settlement procedure under the trade agreement on compliance of Korean labour laws and practices with commitments in the TSD Chapter. The EU expects Korea to follow up on the Panel recommendations and discuss the issue at the next TSD committee. The EU also called on the Republic of Korea to remove persistent obstacles to imports of EU animal products (notably beef, pork and poultry), based on Korean SPS requirements and procedures which are not in compliance with the trade agreement. On global challenges, both partners confirmed their commitment to multilateralism and the rules-based international order, free and fair trade and the rejection of protectionism, as well as their wish to enhance cooperation in international fora including the UN, the WTO and the G20.
The EU delegation was led by Mr Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director of the Asia and Pacific Department of the European External Action Service. The Delegation of the Republic of Korea was led by Mr Lee Seong Ho, Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The next EU-Republic of Korea Joint Committee will meet in 2022 in Brussels.