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EU-Republic of Korea Summit: Building on a well-established partnership

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The 9th EU-Republic of Korea Summit took place on 19 October in Brussels. It marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and the Republic of Korea and set the stage for a further strengthening of bilateral ties.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. The Republic of Korea was represented by its President, Moon Jae-in. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from the Republic of Korea.

“In 2011, the EU agreed its first Free Trade Agreement with an Asian country. That country was the Republic of Korea”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. “The beneficiaries of this agreement have been our citizens and our businesses, but if our trade relationship is to reach its full potential, we need to ensure that it is being implemented properly. At the same time, we must continue to dispel the notion that protectionism protects, continue to invest in multilateralism, and continue to increase our cooperation in sustainable development and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. I am confident that in the years to come, our relations will be even more dynamic and our ties even stronger than now.”

Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Moon committed to further develop the EU-Republic of Korea Strategic Partnership, which is underpinned by three concrete pillars: an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; an ambitious Free Trade Agreement; and a Framework Participation Agreement for EU crisis management operations. The Summit provided an opportunity to explore further areas for cooperation within the Strategic Partnership.

Discussions focused on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the broader situation in the world, and trade relations. The Summit also provided an opportunity for the initialling, by the European Commission and the Republic of Korea, of a Horizontal Aviation agreement and the signing of a Joint Statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.

Jointly addressing global challenges

The EU and Korea are united by common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to multilateralism and the international rules-based order, politically and economically, while also supporting global action on climate change and the environment. The EU and Korea will continue promoting free, fair and rules-based trade, modernising the WTO-based multilateral trading system, and maintaining international cooperation against protectionism.

The Leaders discussed a number of pressing issues on the global agenda, chief among them prospects for achieving lasting peace and security on a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and finding a comprehensive solution through diplomacy, while fully implementing the relevant UNSC Resolutions. The EU supports the Republic of Korea’s efforts and diplomatic initiatives, in particular the three inter-Korean Summits and the US-DPRK Summit, and the implementation of their outcomes. The EU sees the development of inter-Korean relations, the denuclearisation of, and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula as vital for peace and security not only in East Asia, but for the entire world. In this context, the EU stressed the requirement for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and related programmes and facilities.

The EU and the Republic of Korea reiterated their commitment to maintaining close coordination on foreign and security issues. In the field of crisis management, the EU and the Republic of Korea will continue the good cooperation under the EU-Republic of Korea Framework Participation Agreement, through which the Republic of Korea has regularly contributed to the EU’s naval counter-piracy operation off the coast of the Horn of Africa, EU NAVFOR Atalanta. Similarly, they discussed and agreed to cooperate more closely on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals, and will bolster their bilateral policy dialogue on international development issues and promote joint cooperation in areas and third countries of mutual interest, notably in Asia and Africa.

Expanding the bilateral agenda to bring further benefits to citizens

The leaders recalled that the EU-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement has been an economic success that has increased wealth on both sides. The EU is Korea’s 3rd largest trading partner and Korea the EU’s 8th largest; annual trade in goods between the EU and Korea is now worth about €100 billion. With that in mind, the leaders exchanged views on how to ensure that our citizens and businesses can reap the full benefits of the agreement. The EU highlighted several important issues: for example, ensuring the full implementation of the long-standing, binding labour commitments under the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter; opening the Korean market to EU beef from all EU Member States; and fully implementing commitments in the area of intellectual property rights, including protecting new Geographical Indications.

The Summit also provided an opportunity for the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Kim Young-Choon, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea to sign a joint statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.  The Republic of Korea is the fourth country with whom the EU signs such a joint statement as part of its efforts to tackle the most serious threats to sustainable fishing and to marine biodiversity in the world’s oceans, with devastating environmental and socio-economic consequences. The new partnership, in line with the objectives of the EU’s Ocean Governance strategy, will help exchange information about suspected Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated activities, enhance traceability of fishery products and promote sustainable fishing through education and training.

Excellent progress has been made in the area of transport, where this week the European Commission and the Republic of Korea initialled a Horizontal Aviation Agreement on certain aspects of air services. The agreement will restore legal certainty to all 22 bilateral air services agreements that the Republic of Korea has with EU Member States by bringing these into conformity with EU law. The number of passengers travelling directly between the Republic of Korea and the EU has grown on average 10.1% over the past five years, totalling 3.4 million passengers in 2017. Currently, direct passenger flights are operated between 10 EU Member States and the Republic of Korea. The Horizontal Aviation Agreement reflects this growth in the EU-Republic of Korea aviation market and should serve as a catalyst for increased flows.

Leaders also stressed their commitment to implementing the Paris climate agreement. To translate this political commitment into concrete projects, the EU has set up a platform to exchange best practice on climate action and support the implementation of the Korean Government’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The EU’s Partnership Instrument also financially supports exchanges of cultural practitioners and artists from both the EU and Korea, economic cooperation between companies, as well as the promotion of research and teaching on EU-related issues in Korea, adding to the overall breadth of the relationship.

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Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China

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The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.

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The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.

The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.

However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.

Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses

The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.

The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.

The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.

However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.

At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.

The issue of forced labour in China

Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.

It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.

US concerns and strategic rivalry

The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.

Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.

It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.

Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.

Way ahead for implementation

The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.

The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.

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Hungry for change: An open letter to European governments

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In 2020, the entire world knew what it was to be hungry. Millions of people went without enough to eat, with the most desperate now facing famine. At the same time, isolation took on a new meaning, in which the lonely and most remote were deprived of human contact when they most needed it, while the many victims of Covid-19 were starved of air. For all of us, the human experience fell far short of satisfying even the most basic needs.

The pandemic has provided a taste of a future at the limits of existence, where people are bereft, governments are stymied and economies wither. But it has also fuelled an unprecedented global appetite for change to prevent this from becoming our long-term reality.

For all the obstacles and challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead, I start 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that the growling in our stomachs and the yearning in our hearts can become the collective roar of defiance, of determination and of revolution to make this year better than last, and the future brighter than the past.

It starts with food, the most primal form of sustenance. It is food that determines the health and prospects of almost 750 million Europeans and counting. It is food that employs some 10 million in European agriculture alone and offers the promise of economic growth and development. And it is food that we have learned impacts our very ecosystems, down to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we enjoy, come rain or shine.

Even before the pandemic, 2021 was destined to be a “super-year” for food, a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention as the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit. But with two years’ worth of progress now compressed into the next 12 months, 2021 takes on a renewed significance.

After a year of global paralysis, caused by the shock of Covid-19, we must channel our anxieties, our fear, our hunger,and most of all our energies into action, and wake up to the fact that by transforming food systems to be healthier, more sustainable and inclusive, we can recover from the pandemic and limit the impact of future crises.

The change we need will require all of us to think and act differently because every one of us has a stake and a role in functioning food systems. But now, more than ever, we must look to our national leaders to chart the path forward by uniting farmers, producers, scientists, hauliers, grocers, and consumers, listening to their difficulties and insights, and pledging to improve each aspect of the food system for the betterment of all.

Policymakers must listen to Europe’s 10 million farmers as custodians of the resources that produce our food, and align their needs and challenges with the perspectives of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, chefs and restaurant owners, doctors and nutritionists to develop national commitments.

We enter 2021 with wind in our sails. More than 50 countries have joined the European Union in engaging with the Food Systems Summit and its five priority pillars, or Action Tracks, which cut across nutrition, poverty, climate change, resilience and sustainability. And more than two dozen countries have appointed a national convenor to host a series of country-level dialogues in the months ahead, a process that will underpin the Summit and set the agenda for the Decade of Action to 2030.

But this is just the beginning. With utmost urgency, I call on all UN Member States to join this global movement for a better, more fulfilling future, starting with the transformation of food systems. I urge governments to provide the platform that opens a conversation and guides countries towards tangible, concrete change. And I encourage everyone with fire in their bellies to get involved with the Food Systems Summit process this year and start the journey of transitioning to more inclusive and sustainable food systems.

The Summit is a “People’s Summit” for everyone, and its success relies on everyone everywhere getting involved through participating in Action Track surveys, joining the online Summit Community, and signing up to become Food Systems Heroes who are committed to improving food systems in their own communities and constituencies.

Too often, we say it is time to act and make a difference, then continue as before. But it would be unforgivable if the world was allowed to forget the lessons of the pandemic in our desperation to return to normal life. All the writing on the wall suggests that our food systems need reform now. Humanity is hungry for this change. It is time to sate our appetite.

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Blank Spot in EU

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The historic exit of the Great Britain from the European Union sparked both opportunities and chaos alike. Whether it comes to sectors within and beyond the orders of Britain, the trade policy with Northern Ireland or the isolated position of the bloc as the pandemic continues to perforate the continent with each passing day. It took a span of 4 years and a combination of referendums, disagreements in the House of Commons, displacement of public office and relentless efforts of the diplomats to bargain and negotiate an exit deal. Despite of the celebrated trade deal in action, much of the uncertainty still looms across Europe. The economic bloc now faces an empty spot of a 28th member post UK-exit and with rilling economic desperation and the Coronavirus spiralling alike, EU seeks a promising role to displace some of the pressure buildup.

The United Kingdom, mainly London, serves as the only unarguable financial rival to the metropolis of New York. Although the financial epicentre casted no qualms over trade post Brexit and even the EU financial markets reported no apparent glitches in trade across borders now subject to custom rules and regulations, the sheer volume of the trade denominated in LIBOR projects a sinister possibility of financial turmoil in the near future. Moreover, the trade deal negotiated, hailed by either parties as a victorious bargain, does little to placate uncertainty in the financial markets which further encourages the need of a solid alliance or partnership to fill the gap and subsequent irregularities faced by the European Union.

Turkey stands as one of the aspirants seeking EU membership. Every European state enjoys the privilege to seek EU membership which is subject to yearly review. Turkey has been a lurking party to seek EU approval since 1987. The opportunities opened up in 2016 after decades of tensions over Turkey’s shady democracy and violent role in dealing with their Kurdish minority, residing on the south-eastern borders of Turkey shared with a war-torn Syria. A refugee deal was signed in 2016 between Turkey and EU to facilitate Syrian refugees amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The deal served as a defining chapter in improving bilateral relations. Despite of Turkey’s conditions in the refugee deal: demanding a $60 billion grant from EU to pivot the refugee crisis, EU subliminally promised an expedited track for Turkey’s ascension to EU membership. 

However, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and arguably the most powerful political figure in the circles of Europe, always stood against and awry to Turkey’s membership in EU. The talks of Turkish membership were even stalled back in 2019 in the EU parliament and the prospects looked murky. However, as Merkel inches closer to departure from Germany’s political benches after decades of systematic control, Turkey cites the opportunity as a blessing in disguise. Coupled with Germany being at the verge of a severe recession synonymous in scale to the financial crisis of 2009, Germany’s position could actually shift in favour of Turkey ever since UK-exit baffled even the most sage minds of the continent.

The opportunities, however, are not the only blocks paving way for Turkey towards EU. Turkey shares a brutal conflict with Greece, another EU member state that has muddled the chances of Turkey in the EU for decades. Turkey has the longest continental coastline in the East Mediterranean which has been long contested with Greece over the gas reserves found profoundly in the waters of the East Mediterranean. Both countries have overlapping areas and have time and time again rejected each others claims over respective maritime borders and continental shelves. The icy relations between the duo have been hazy due to multitude of other reasons as well. Ranging from disputes over Turkish migrants crossing Greek borders to ships anchoring in the disputed regions without prior alert. The recent turmoil incited when Turkey officially declared Hagia Sophia, a museum in Istanbul and a historic remnant of Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral, as a mosque which infuriated the Greek patriots.

Turkey’s ascension to membership might be a solution to economic disparity in the region; Turkey serving as a corridor between Europe and Asia and opening channels of economic flourish to EU like Silk Road initiative with China. The ascension could even solve the border disputes with Greece and project a solution to the energy reserves in Mediterranean, solving the divide once and for all. Even with Recab Tayyab Erdogan’s boasting position over improving relations with EU, the extent of ease in bilateral relations is still unclear. As top Turkish Diplomat’s schedule visit to Brussels in a week, and Turkey and Greece are to resume exploratory talks over territorial claims in the Mediterranean on January 25th, glimmers of astounding results are on cards in the arching diplomacy of Europe.

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