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NEWS

Britain to launch South Korea trade talks as president visits

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain rolled out the red carpet for South Korea’s president on Tuesday at the start of a state visit intended to deepen diplomatic and business ties between the two countries as they launch talks on a new free trade agreement.

King Charles greeted President Yoon Suk Yeol with a royal guard of honour following his arrival in London on a three-day trip marking 140 years of diplomatic ties between Britain and South Korea, and then took him by carriage to Buckingham Palace.

Yoon, a conservative who has cited a “polycrisis” of global challenges as a reason for seeking closer ties with like-minded partners, was due to address lawmakers from both houses of parliament on Tuesday before a state banquet in his honour.

He will hold talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, and sign an accord on closer diplomatic ties.

“Through our new Downing Street Accord, we will drive investment, boost trade and build a friendship that not only supports global stability, but protects our interests and lasts the test of time,” Sunak said.

In a statement announcing that talks on a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would also start on Wednesday, Sunak said: “I know a Free Trade Agreement fit for the future will only drive further investment, delivering on my promise to grow the economy and support highly skilled jobs.”

Under the accord, the countries will agree to work closely on areas such as semiconductors – of which South Korea is an important producer – and artificial intelligence.

The Downing Street Accord will also strengthen Britain and South Korea’s joint ability to enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea to prevent development of its nuclear weapons programmes, using sea patrols to prevent smuggling.

Britain said South Korean businesses would invest 21 billion pounds ($26.17 billion) in British renewable energy and infrastructure projects, and announced a clean energy partnership to work together on the transition to green power.

Speaking to members of the South Korean community, Yoon said South Korea and Britain were partners that shared universal values of freedom, human rights and rule of law, and form an economic community through trade, Yonhap news reported.

“REFRESHED, MODERNISED DEAL”

Under Yoon, South Korea has focused on strengthening economic, political, and military ties with the United States while seeking to maintain trade with China and working to overcome historical disputes with Japan.

“With the resumption of the free trade talks, we will lay the basis for supply chain management and mutual cooperation,” he was quoted as telling the event in London.

He said the two countries would also expand cooperation in cybersecurity and defence industry.

Britain is building its own ties in the Indo-Pacific as part of a tilt in its diplomatic strategy towards the region, and this year completed talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The talks on a new trade deal with South Korea will aim to replace a carry-over agreement from when Britain left the European Union, which was based on replicating a deal with the EU from 2011 and reduced tariffs in a range of areas.

Britain said it hoped a new trade deal would pave the way for increased digital trade and streamline complex procedures, and have a new rules of origin chapter.

“This refreshed, modernised deal will boost our world-leading services sector, while also creating new opportunities for UK exports,” said British business and trade minister Kemi Badenoch.

($1 = 0.8025 pounds)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young in London, additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Alistair Bell, Stephen Coates and Timothy Heritage)

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