Lee calls for support for Korean firms trying to expand investment, presence in Turkey
ISTANBUL (Yonhap News) -- South Korea and Turkey agreed Sunday to work together to conclude their free trade negotiations at an early date, possibly in the first half of the year, and resume stalled negotiations on the Eurasian nation's atomic power plant construction project, officials said.
The agreement was reached in talks between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the ancient city of Istanbul. The two countries have held three rounds of negotiations on a free trade deal since April 2010.
After the three rounds of talks, the two countries are in agreement on the goods sector, but differences still remain in the services and investment sectors, officials said. The sticking points are not large, however, and could be resolved smoothly, they said.
"If the FTA is concluded, it will help South Korean products expand not only into Turkey, but also other European markets because Turkey already has a tariff alliance with the European Union," a presidential official said on condition of anonymity.
Such a trade pact could allow South Korean firms to export goods to other parts of Europe via Turkey at low prices as Turkey and the EU are linked by an agreement to remove or lower tariffs between them.
The two leaders also agreed to resume stalled negotiations on a $20 billion project to build four nuclear reactors on Turkey's Black Sea coast, officials said.
President Lee Myung-bak (second from left) speaks during a Korea-Turkey CEO Roundtable meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday. From left are Turkey’s Economy Minister Zafer Gaglayan, Lee, Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey President Rifat Hisarciklioglu and Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik. (Yonhap News)
The agreement follows up on a summit meeting between Lee and Erdogan in November on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Cannes, France. In that meeting, Erdogan asked for South Korea's participation in the nuclear power plant project.
In 2010, South Korea and Turkey held intense negotiations on the project, but the talks were later suspended after the sides failed to resolve key differences. Japan was then expected to win the project but Turkey's talks with Japan were reportedly halted after last year's nuclear accident in Japan.
South Korea is a global atomic energy leader that relies on nuclear plants for about 40 percent of its electricity needs. The country has also been trying to export nuclear power plants since Korean firms won a massive contract in late 2009 to build four atomic power plants in the United Arab Emirates.
Turkey has seen its electricity demand soaring in tandem with its fast economic growth. The country has been one of the world's fastest-growing economies despite global economic downturns. The Turkish economy grew 9 percent in 2010 and 8.2 percent in the third quarter of last year.
Lee and Erdogan also agreed to provide active government support for a culture expo that Istanbul and the ancient South Korean city of Gyeongju plan to jointly hold in the Turkish city in 2013, the statement said.
Lee praised Erdogan's leadership efforts to bring peace and stability in the Middle East, and the prime minister expressed unwavering support for Seoul's policies aimed at making peace with North Korea, the office said.
Lee also welcomed Erdogan's decision to attend March's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.
Later Sunday, Lee was to leave for Ankara for a summit with President Abdullah Gul. Key topics of their summit meeting, set for Monday, include trade expansion, infrastructure construction and other issues of cooperation.
The trip to Turkey is part of a four-nation tour that will take him to three major oil producing nations -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The countries account for about half of South Korea's crude imports.
The swing through the Middle East comes as South Korea prepares to cut back on its crude imports from Iran in line with a U.S.-led campaign to dry up the country's oil export revenues as punishment and pressure over its nuclear weapons programs.