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Minister confirms delay in EU trade talks

SEOUL, Feb 18 – South Korea\’s trade minister on Wednesday confirmed the postponement of free trade negotiations with the European Union but said he still hopes to conclude them next month.

Kim Jong-Hoon told local business leaders the next round would not be held in the first week of March, as previously scheduled.

Kim said EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton had delayed the eighth round by up to three weeks, saying she needed more time "to collect the opinions" of EU members.

"Both sides are making efforts with a view to solving contentious issues and concluding negotiations when they meet (sometime) in March," he said.

After talks with Ashton in Seoul last month, Kim said the two sides moved closer in such areas as the auto trade and rules of origin.

But European carmakers this month called for a halt in the negotiations, saying the EU risked getting too little from South Korea in return for granting it full access to European markets.

In particular, they called for tariffs on South Korean car imports to be dismantled over seven years rather than a proposed five.

They also said Seoul should be forced to apply international technical standards for imported vehicles instead of stricter domestic rules seen as a barrier to trade.

South Korea currently exports 600,000 vehicles to Europe annually while the EU exports only 22,000, according to the European carmakers.

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Two-way trade with the European Union was worth 93.07 billion dollars in 2007, making it South Korea\’s second biggest trade partner after China.

The 27-nation European bloc is the largest foreign investor in South Korea, with outstanding investment reaching 43.40 billion dollars at the end of 2007.

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