Mike welcomes EU Korea Agreement

 Here is my speech and exchanges with Foreign Office Minister David Lidington in the Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee on Thursday 26 January 2012 concerning the Draft European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Republic of Korea Framework Agreement) Order 2012 


9.5 am 

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):  May I declare an interest? I am the vice-chair of the all-party Britain-Republic of Korea parliamentary group, and like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East, I was at the UK-Korea Forum for the Future in June last year. I have attended forums on previous occasions in this country, as well as in the Republic of Korea. I also went to South Korea with the all-party group four years ago to learn extensively about the political and economic developments there. 

I am pleased that the order is being debated today. It is a symbol of a further strengthening of relations between the European Union and the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea is a vibrant democracy, coming out of a period under an authoritarian military regime, and it is an important symbol of progress. It has transformed its economy over the past 50 years, having gone from a period when living standards were higher in North Korea than in the South, to today, when living standards are 40 times greater, per capita, in South Korea than in North Korea. 

We should do all we can. We should welcome the fact that the EU has built this relationship. There were difficulties with the free trade agreement with the United States; that ran into some problems in the American Congress, which is not unusual, I guess. It is important that we in Europe, who do not yet have the level of relationship with the Republic of Korea that we should, capitalise on that fact. That is why the proposal today and the associated free trade agreement are so important. 

Finally, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government will intensify bilateral contact with the Republic of Korea over the coming years. 

Mr Lidington:  I am grateful to the Members who have contributed to the debate, and to the hon. Members for Wolverhampton North East, and for Ilford South, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, for their firm support for the measure. It is worth paying tribute to the work of the all-party Britain-Republic of Korea parliamentary group over many years to promote good bilateral relations, and also to the work of the UK-Korea Forum for the Future. I had the privilege of attending one of its gatherings a few years ago, when my party was in opposition. It added greatly to my understanding of the importance of a country about which until then I had known relatively little, so I applaud the work that those two organisations have done.  ….

The balance of trade between the European Union and Korea has been moving in different ways, depending on the time at which one examines the current account. The point that I ask the hon. Gentleman to take on board is that the agreement provides enormous opportunities for companies in the UK and other EU countries to move with greater ease into an Asian market that is one of the fastest growing in the world. That is why the assessment from BIS states that the free trade agreement is worth £500 million annually to UK businesses. 

Mike Gapes:  As the Minister is aware, I visited a Tesco-Samsung joint venture, and I also met people who are running a major department store complex selling furniture in Korea. That British company comes out of Tesco’s investment in Korea over several years. 

Mr Lidington:  The hon. Gentleman makes the point well. Other British companies are investing in Korea, and Korean companies are investing and employing people here in the UK. I do not believe that the way to prosperity and the creation and sharing of wealth in this country is helped by putting up barriers against the rest of the world, least of all against world markets that are generating very rapid economic growth, and are set to do so in the future.  ……. 

The hon. Member for Ilford South asked for the assurance that we would not neglect bilateral relations and leave everything to the European Union. I give him that assurance. The agreement was concluded on behalf of the European Union and its member states. It is a mixed agreement, which means that both the EU as an institution and member states acting independently will each act within their respective areas of competence, as laid down in the treaty. Nothing in the agreement constrains the United Kingdom from developing and strengthening its bilateral relationship with the Republic of Korea. 

In the statement that he made last summer about the Foreign Office’s network shift, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced that the Government intended to increase their diplomatic presence in several emerging economies. The Republic of Korea is one of the countries in which we will strengthen our diplomatic footprint, and it is also one of the emerging economies that the Government have identified as collectively providing some exciting opportunities for the development of a closer trading and investment relationship. Since the formation of this Government, a committee of the National Security Council has focused entirely on the United Kingdom’s relationship with such emerging economies. Several Departments are represented on that committee, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It will consider our relations with South Korea, alongside those with other emerging economic and political powers. We will certainly not neglect bilateral relations. 

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken for their support and for their constructive comments. I hope that the Committee will agree to the motion. 

Question put and agreed to.

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