The EU-South Korea FTA celebrating 10 years anniversary

10 years ago, on 1 July 2011, the free trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea came into effect, with Korea becoming the first Asian country to implement an FTA with the EU. The trade deal contributed to promoting the trade of goods and services, reaching EUR 110 billion, as well as investment in both sides. It is regarded as one of the most comprehensive trade agreements with a high degree of market openness. Furthermore, the EU-Korea FTA included provisions in areas such as intellectual property rights, trade in services, sustainable development and GIs (Geographical Indications). 

EU-Korea FTA
Beeld: ©SEO-LNV


The Korea-EU FTA has benefited Korea and the EU in major bilateral trade goods such as machinery, transport equipment, chemicals.  On the whole, however, there has been no major change in Korea’s exports to the EU since their FTA went into effect, while the EU’s exports to Korea have risen significantly. The FTA shows that Europe is a challenging market. In the initial stage, Korean products had to compete with premium goods in Europe to attract consumers in 28 EU countries.

The Korea-EU FTA most of all helped the export of EU agriculture and food products such as  wine, cheese, olive oil, and woods grow, along with foot wear and textiles. As the income is growing, Korean consumers are increasingly enjoying European food, fashion and furniture.
Other Asian countries, unlike Korea, have signed a FTA with the EU only recently. The FTA between Japan and the EU entered into force in February 2019, while the Singapore-EU FTA and the Vietnam-EU FTA went into effect in November 2019 and August 2020, respectively.

Trade between the Netherlands and Korea

The Netherlands’ exports grew by 29% between 2011 and 2020 while Korea’s exports decreased by -14% during the same period. Notably, Dutch agri food exports soared showing 48% growth between 2010 and 2020. 2011 was an exceptional year and not suitable for comparison as import duties for livestock products were temporarily removed due to outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in Korea in 2011.

As of 1 July 2021, most of custom duties to the Korean market were eliminated. This includes  pork, cheese, milk powder, butter, beer, wine, coffee, confectionery, bakery, beverage, fishery, flowers, ornamental plants, feed, fertilizer and agricultural machinery. Other products such as beef, poultry meat, starches, some fruits (apple, pear and citrus), a number of vegetables (pepper, garlic and onion), and green tea are expected to become zero tariffs in the next 2-8 years.


Today the EU is re-shaping supply chains and strengthening environmental and human rights standards to reduce its dependence on China. This is seen as a positive factor for both the EU and Korea, making the FTA  a more strategic tool.

Korea is currently dealing with various issues in a global trade environment, including the U.S.-China trade dispute and the pandemic. To keep up with the changing environment, it is beneficial for Korea  to expand and intensify its strategic partnership with the EU. For the coming years, climate change and sustainability are expected to be the priorities for the cooperation between the EU and Korea.

Source: European Commission, KBS and KITA