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EU-ROK decide on trade deal

CHIEF negotiators for the Republic of Korea and the European Union reached a tentative free trade agreement yesterday after nearly two years of talks, but left key issues of a "political nature" for their trade ministers to resolve next week in London.

Officials for the two sides told reporters that they had reached a "provisional" accord in almost all areas during two days of talks, but that they remained far apart in certain contentious areas.

EU chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero indicated that serious work remained to be done, cautioning that "success is not guaranteed" and that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Lee Hye-min, Garcia Bercero's South Korean counterpart, added that he is "neither optimistic nor pessimistic" regarding the eventual outcome of the negotiations.

South Korea and the 27-member EU have been working to reach a deal to slash tariffs and other barriers to commerce for nearly two years. The EU and South Korea are already major trade partners. Bilateral exchange reached US$98.4 billion in 2008. The EU is South Korea's second-largest trading partner after China and is its largest foreign investor.

Despite the mostly technical issues still up for discussion, including rules of origin and duty drawback - the refund of tariffs on the importation of parts from a third country used in a final exported product - the two sides reported significant progress in a negotiating effort that began in May 2007.

Garcia Bercero said that they had agreed to eliminate duties on about 97 percent of trade over five years if an agreement takes effect.


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