From 23 to 26 April, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee paid a working visit to South Korea. The purpose of the visit was to reinforce the EFTA states’ interest in modernising the existing EFTA-South Korea free trade agreement and support the efforts made to deepen and broaden trade relations.

The EFTA Parliamentary Committee is made up of deputies from the relevant parliamentary delegations from the four EFTA states, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Assembly is represented in this committee by the EFTA/EU delegation. As an advisory body to EFTA, the committee follows the ongoing development of free trade agreements and helps to generate parliamentary support for these efforts.

The Swiss parliamentarians who took part in the visit were the president of the EFTA/EU delegation, National Council member Hans-Peter Portmann (FDP, ZH), delegation vice president, National Council member Eric Nussbaumer (SP, BL), Council of States member Konrad Graber (CVP, LU), and National Council member Hans Egloff (SVP, ZH).

The parliamentary committee held official talks with the deputy minister for trade negotiations, Yeo Han-koo, and the director-general for economic affairs at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Hee-san.

The EFTA parliamentarians also took the opportunity to meet members of the Korean National Assembly, such as Lee Juyoung, Deputy Speaker of the Korean parliament, and Hong Ilpyo, Chairman of the Trade, Industry, Energy, SMEs and Start-ups Committee.

At these talks, the EFTA parliamentarians stressed the EFTA states’ interest in modernising the free trade agreement. The agreement has helped to increase bilateral trade flows, but is now 13 years old and no longer meets current standards, meaning that there is potential to deepen and expand the existing partnership. It is hoped that the contact between parliamentarians will help create momentum for the modernisation of the agreement.

The EFTA parliamentarians highlighted that economies like Korea and the EFTA states, which are dependent on global trade, would be well advised to form an alliance in opposition to increasingly protectionist tendencies. The modernisation of the existing trade agreement could play a role in this by demonstrating the importance and benefits of free trade now and in the future.

Following the official talks, the delegation travelled to Ulsan in southeastern Korea, an important centre of car and ship construction. The committee spoke to Mayor Song Chul-ho and reaffirmed its desire to develop cooperation in sectors with a promising future, such as renewable energy and electric vehicle production.

To round off their trip, the EFTA delegation paid a visit to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) in the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. Five Swiss army officers are deployed with the NNSC, which has the task of ensuring that the armistice agreement is respected. The Swiss officers are stationed immediately to the south of the Demarcation Line.