Korea, France renew commitment to G20 goals to reduce imbalances, energy price volatility
PARIS ― President Lee Myung-bak and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy discussed during summit talks here Friday ways to further expand bilateral trade and investment as Korea’s free trade pact with the European Union goes into effect July 1.
Differences with Paris over the issue of returning Korea’s centuries-old royal books looted by French troops in 1866 had kept Seoul from actively promoting trade and investment with the second largest European economy until recently.
Under a summit deal reached between the two sides on the sidelines of the Seoul G20 Summit last November, a third and penultimate batch of the 297-volume “Oegyujanggak” (part of a royal library in the 1392-1910 Joseon Dynasty) books that had been stored in France for the past 145 years arrived in Korea on Thursday.
The two-way trade volume between France, which is only about $700 billion short of Germany in economic output, and Korea amounted to $7.3 billion last year, or only about 30 percent of the trade volume between Korea and Germany.
France is the fourth largest European investor in Korea ($6 billion last year) after the Netherlands, Britain and Germany.
Lee and Sarkozy also exchanged views Friday on recent developments in the Korean Peninsula, Europe and the Middle East such as the war in Libya.
Lee thanked the permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for its support of South Korea’s policies on North Korea and requested for continued backing.
As the previous and incumbent chairs of the Group of 20 Summit, Seoul and Paris also reaffirmed Friday close cooperation to implement agreements reached at last year’s Seoul G20 summit for France’s successful hosting in Cannes in November.
Following their summit talks Friday, Lee and Sarkozy issued a joint statement on the Group of 20, in which the two countries expressed their shared concerns about commodity markets in addition to reiterating commitment to reduce major and persistent imbalances and to improve the international monetary system.
“(Korea and France) are determined to work on concrete and operational solutions to reduce food and energy price volatility and mitigate its impacts on the most vulnerable,” the joint statement reads.
“They support the active work undertaken to improve the transparency in both physical and derivative markets, ... increase food security and strengthen the regulation and supervision of commodity derivatives.”
The two sides also agreed to work together in close cooperation to ensure substantive progress in implementing the Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth and its Multi-Year Action Plan, notably on infrastructure financing and food security.
“They look forward to Bill Gates’ recommendations to G20 on development financing and especially on innovative financing,” the statement reads.
Earlier Friday, Lee offered flowers to the tomb of an unknown soldier from the First World War beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Lee then briefly met with the chief executives of Korean and French companies who are to attend the G20 Business Summit in November, a G20 program that Lee introduced last year, before giving a keynote speech at the meeting of Korean and French business leaders hosted by the MEDEF, an association of French enterprises.
Lee asked the companies to expand strategic cooperation between Korea and France especially in green industries such as development of renewable energy, aerospace engineering and development of energy resources.
Some 80 Korean businessmen including chairmen Hur Chang-soo of the Federation of Korea Industries and Cho Yang-ho of Korean Air and about 120 French businesspeople including MEDEF president Laurence Parisot attended the meeting.
After the summit talks and business luncheon with Sarkozy in the Elysee Palace, Lee met with secretary generals Jose Angel Gurria of the OECD and then with Irina Gueorguieva Bokova of UNESCO at his hotel.
Welcoming the OECD’s plan to adopt Korea’s proposal on green growth strategy, Lee appreciated Gurria’s leadership and the OECD secretariat’s efforts.
Lee then gave a speech at the Paris 7 University as he received an honorary doctorate there before attending a dinner hosted by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.
Lee and Sarkozy also agreed Friday to prepare for various programs to celebrate the 130th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations in 2015-2016 by dedicating it as the year of Korea-France exchanges.
Lee is scheduled to leave Paris for Seoul on Saturday after a breakfast meeting with top French scholars, interview with local daily Le Monde, meeting with Korean residents here and luncheon with Korean businessmen accompanied Lee on his weeklong European tour.
By Kim So-hyun, Korea Herald correspondent