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South Korea

EU trade relations with South Korea. Facts, figures and latest developments.

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The EU-Republic of Korea free trade agreement (FTA) had provisionally applied since July 2011 before it was formally ratified in December 2015.

It went further than any of the EU’s previous agreements in lifting trade barriers, and was also the EU's first trade deal with an Asian country. 

It was also the EU’s first FTA to include a chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development. The chapter reaffirms the commitment of the EU and Korea* to contribute to sustainable development by integrating labour and environmental (including climate) protection in the bilateral trade relationship.

The European Commission launched negotiations with Korea for a digital trade agreement on 31 October 2023.  

*Covering the territory of the Republic of Korea, commonly known as South Korea.

Trade picture

  • Korea is the EU's 9th largest export destination for goods, whereas the EU is Korea's 3rd largest export market.
  • Since the entry into force of the EU-Korea free trade agreement on 1 July 2011, bilateral trade and investment have expanded remarkably. Total bilateral trade in goods amounted to 107.3 billion euros in 2021, up by 70.8% from 2011.
  • Bilateral trade between the EU and Korea remains highly concentrated in the industrial sectors that represented 95.9% of total bilateral trade in 2021, including machinery and appliances (33.9%), transport equipment (18.9%), and chemicals (15.1%).
  • Bilateral trade in agricultural products has gradually increased in the decade since the agreement’s entry into force, accounting for 3.9% in 2021. Of EU total exports to Korea, the share of agricultural products grew from 5.3% in 2011 to 7.6% in 2021. In 2020, EU-Korea trade in services remained concentrated on a handful of sectors: transport (25.7%); royalties and license fees (15.2%); and telecommunications, computer and information services (14.1%).
  • Bilateral trade in services soared by 72.2% between 2011 and 2020, amounting to €18.6 billion in 2020.
  • The EU remains South Korea's biggest foreign direct investor, ahead of Japan and the US.

The EU and the Republic of Korea

1 July 2021 marked the 10th anniversary of the EU-Republic of Korea free trade agreement. The agreement eliminates duties for industrial and agricultural goods in a progressive, step-by-step manner.

The majority of import duties were removed in 2011. The remaining ones – with the exception of a limited number of agricultural products – were removed after five years on 1 July 2016.

The FTA also addresses non-tariff barriers to trade, specifically in the automotive, pharmaceutical, medical devices and electronics sectors.

The agreement has created new opportunities for market access in services and investments, and includes provisions in areas such as competition policy, government procurement, intellectual property rights, transparency in regulation, and sustainable development.

The FTA also includes a legally binding chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development. As a result of a dispute resolution confirming that Korea did not comply with its obligations set out in the TSD chapter, the country is in the process of amending its labour laws.

More on sustainable development (including dispute settlement) in the EU-Korea FTA

The FTA established a number of specialised committees and working groups between the two parties to monitor implementation.

These bodies also provide an opportunity to seek resolutions to market access concerns and to engage in closer regulatory cooperation. An annual trade committee at ministerial level plays a supervisory role and is designed to ensure that the agreement operates properly.

More on the operation of the agreement in practice

In 2010, the EU and the Republic of Korea upgraded their broader relationship to a Strategic Partnership. On 10 May 2010 the two sides signed a Framework Agreement, which entered into force on 1 June 2014. It provides a basis for strengthened cooperation on major political and global issues such as human rights, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counter-terrorism, climate change and energy security. This is an overarching political cooperation agreement with a legal link to the EU-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement.

Negotiations between the EU and the Republic of Korea for a Digital Trade Agreement build on the cooperation and convergence in the EU-Republic of Korea Digital Partnership that was concluded in November 2022, and the EU-Republic of Korea Digital Trade Principles that are a key deliverable of the Digital Partnership.

Committees and Dialogues

The EU and the Republic of Korea meet regularly to discuss issues and best practices and oversee the proper functioning of the Agreement.

Technical committee meetings - agendas and reports

Trading with the Republic of Korea

Exporters' stories

Latest news

  • News article

Today, the Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis and Korean Minister for Trade Ahn Dukgeun co-chaired the 10th Trade Committee between the EU and the Republic of Korea.

  • 3 min read