South Korea and the European Union have started what they call their final round of talks in efforts to agree on a trade liberalization deal. The deal still faces serious opposition from South Korean farmers, and may require fine tuning on opening up the Korean auto market.
South Korean Chief Trade Negotiator Lee Hye-min says he and his European Union counterpart Ignacio Garcia Bercero hope to conclude negotiations on a free trade deal this week.
"As a result of these efforts, now we are about to finishing our long journey ... Our deal has far reached many fields for the whole economy. Both Korean and European manufactures will benefit," he said.
The two sides have held seven previous rounds of talks that began nearly two years ago. Signing and implementing a deal would remove tariffs and make it much easier to buy and sell goods and services to each other. By at least one estimate the deal stands to add about $11 billion to South Korea's economy.
Opening the automotive and agricultural markets have been sticking points in previous sessions. Both sides view those markets as sensitive and politically difficult to stop protecting.
South Korean farmers held protests in Seoul to condemn the deal, shouting that the FTA negotiations are killing Korean farmers. Agriculture, especially rice farming, is seen in South Korea as a matter of both food security and cultural heritage. Deals to allow foreign agriculture products in to the country have sparked emotional and occasionally violent demonstrations in the past.
If this week's negotiations are successful, South Korean officials say they hope to publicly declare the deal at next month's summit of advanced industrial nations in London.
South Korea signed a free trade deal with the United States in June of 2007. But serious doubts remain as to whether it will be ratified. Left-leaning South Korean politicians have used sit-ins and civil disobedience to block the National Assembly in Seoul from advancing the vote process on the deal.
In the United States, senior Democratic party leaders have expressed reservations about the deal's terms on automobile trade. Earlier this month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a confirmation he thought the U.S.-South Korea deal "just is not fair."