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Overview : ASEAN-Korea free trade agreement


ASEAN and the Republic of Korea (ROK) initiated sectoral dialogue relations in November 1989. The ROK was accorded a full Dialogue Partner status by ASEAN at the 24th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in July 1991 in Kuala Lumpur. Since the ASEAN-ROK partnership was elevated to a summit level in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, relations between ASEAN and the ROK have broadened and deepened.

The relationship reached a new height with the signing of the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation Partnership at the 8th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 30 November 2004 in Vientiane and the adoption of the ASEAN-ROK Plan of Action (POA) to implement the Joint Declaration at the 9th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 13 December 2005 in Kuala Lumpur.

The 13th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 29 October 2010 in Ha Noi agreed to elevate ASEAN-ROK dialogue relations from comprehensive cooperation to strategic partnership. In order to concretise the elevation, the Leaders adopted the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and its Action Plan, which covers the period of 2011-2015.

In order to facilitate closer cooperation and mutual understanding between ASEAN and the ROK, the ROK established its Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta in September 2012 and appointed its first resident Ambassador to ASEAN in October 2012.

This year, ASEAN and the ROK are celebrating the 25th Year of ASEAN-ROK Dialogue Relations with commemorative activities in ASEAN Member States and the ROK. Both sides will convene a Commemorative Summit in December 2014 in the ROK.

Political and Security Cooperation

ASEAN-ROK cooperation in the political and security fields has been strengthened by regular dialogue and exchange of views on regional and international issues through existing ASEAN-ROK mechanisms such as the ASEAN-ROK Summit, ASEAN-ROK Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN-ROK Dialogue and other mechanisms under broader regional frameworks such as the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) process, the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).

The ROK has demonstrated its strong commitment to further strengthening political and security engagement with ASEAN. The ROK acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) at the ASEAN-ROK Ministerial Meeting on 27 November 2004 in Vientiane. The ROK strongly supports ASEAN’s efforts to a nuclear weapons-free zone in Southeast Asia. It also supports ASEAN as the driving force of the regional processes initiated by ASEAN such as APT, ARF, EAS, and ADMM Plus.

The ROK is co-chairing the ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security (ISM on MS) with Indonesia and the United States for the period of 2011-2014. The 5th ARF ISM on MS was hosted by the ROK on 18-19 April 2013 in Seoul. Furthermore, the ASEAN Regional Forum-Disaster Relief Exercise (ARF-DiREx) 2013 was concluded on 7-11 May 2013 in Cha-am, Thailand with Thailand co-chairing the exercise with the ROK.

In addressing the issue of terrorism, the ASEAN-ROK Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism was signed by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the ROK at the margins of the 38th AMM in July 2005 in Vientiane. Following this declaration, the annual ASEAN-ROK Senior Officials’ Consultations on Transnational Crime (SOMTC+ROK Consultations) have been held since 2006. The 7th SOMTC+ROK Consultations were held on 19 September 2012 in Bangkok. The Consultations exchanged views on existing regional collaboration between ASEAN and the ROK on transnational crime, such as on Anti-Drug Liaison Officials Meeting for International Cooperation (ADLOMICO), and on future cooperation in other areas of transnational crime of which the ROK expressed its interest to cooperate in the areas of Cybercrime and Money Laundering. The 8th SOMTC+ROK Consultations was held in June 2013 in Da Nang, Viet Nam.

The ROK has been implementing an anti-narcotic cooperation project through the Knowledge Transfer Programme on Narcotics Crime since 2007 in several ASEAN Member States (Lao PDR in 2007, Cambodia and Viet Nam in 2008, the Philippines in 2009, Indonesia in 2010, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore in 2012, and Myanmar in 2013). The Programme includes sharing of investigatory techniques, provision of advanced investigation equipment, hosting of anti-narcotics campaign, and human resources exchanges. As ASEAN adopted the Declaration on Drug-Free ASEAN 2015 in April 2012, ASEAN Leaders, at the 15th ASEAN-ROK Summit, also looked forward to enhancing cooperation with the ROK to address the trafficking of illegal drugs and narcotics.

With a view to further deepening mutual understanding between ASEAN and the ROK at the track II level, the annual Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Forum has been held since 2006. The Seventh Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Forum was held on 29-30 August 2012 in Ha Noi with the theme of “A better world in diversification”, co-hosted by the Korea Foundation and Seoul National University Asian Centre and the Viet Nam Academy of Social Science. The Seventh Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Forum discussed issues of common concern in East Asia including sustainable growth and sustainable development, migration, regional security, and cultural exchange.

In further strengthening the ASEAN-ROK relations and advancing the ASEAN-ROK cooperation towards a strategic partnership, the ASEAN-ROK Eminent Persons Group (EPG) was established by the Leaders of ASEAN and the ROK at the 11th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 21 November 2007 in Singapore. The EPG convened four meetings in 2009 and its final report was submitted to the 12th ASEAN-ROK Summit in October 2009 in Thailand. The report proposed a set of recommendations to further advance and deepen ASEAN-ROK relations, including strategies and guiding principles, and key elements of the partnership. The recommendations contained in the EPG Report were taken on board in developing the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and its Action Plan, which were adopted at the 13th ASEAN-ROK Summit.

Economic Cooperation

ASEAN and the ROK remain important trading partners. In 2012, two-way trade between ASEAN and ROK continued to grow and amounted to USD 131.0 billion compared with USD 124.5 billion the previous year. The ROK has maintained its position as the fifth largest trading partner of ASEAN, while ASEAN has become the second largest trade partner of the ROK. The two-way trade volume is expected to increase to USD 150 billion by 2015 as committed by the ASEAN-ROK Leaders at the 14th ASEAN-ROK Summit in November 2011. The foreign direct investment flow from the ROK to ASEAN, however, declined by 20.8% from USD 2.4 billion in 2011 to USD 1.9 billion in 2012.

In order to reach the target two-way trade volume, the Leaders at the 15th ASEAN-ROK Summit tasked the relevant Ministers to implement concrete measures, including to fully implement the ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement (AKFTA) and to effectively utilise the ASEAN-Korea Centre in order to enhance ASEAN-ROK economic linkages.

The 16th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 9 October 2013 in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam agreed to re-double the efforts to achieve the target USD 150 billion by 2015 by fully utilising the ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Area.

The Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and the ROK was signed in Kuala Lumpur on 13 December 2005. In order to implement this Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, ASEAN and the ROK signed agreements on dispute settlement, trade in goods and trade in services. The ASEAN-ROK Agreement on a Dispute Settlement Mechanism was signed by the economic ministers of ASEAN and the ROK at the 9th ASEAN-ROK Summit in December 2005 in Kuala Lumpur. The ASEAN-ROK Agreement on Trade in Goods (TIG) came into force on 1 June 2007. The ASEAN-ROK Agreement on Trade in Services was signed at the sidelines of the 11th ASEAN-ROK Summit in November 2007 in Singapore and came into force on 1 May 2009. All Parties have ratified the Agreement. Negotiations on the ASEAN-ROK Investment Agreement was concluded in April 2009 and signed at the ASEAN-ROK 20 Years’ Commemorative Summit in June 2009 in Jeju Island. The ASEAN-ROK Investment Agreement came into effect on 1 September 2009. Subsequently, the ASEAN-ROK Free Trade Area (AKFTA) came into effect on 1 January 2010.

At the 9th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) – ROK Consultations on 29 August 2012, the Ministers adopted the Work Programme for Further Liberalisation which comprises review of further possible reduction of the number of goods in the Sensitive Track, conditions governing the reciprocal arrangement and development of a comprehensive package to promote trade as well as facilitate utilisation of the AKFTA. In addition, the Ministers launched the AKFTA website ( and seminar kit on AKFTA as part of the efforts to promote the AKFTA and also welcomed the Joint Study on the Economic Impact of the AKFTA Services and looked forward to the presentation on the findings. The Joint Study is planned for completion by the first meeting of AKFTA Implementing Committee in 2013.

On transport cooperation, ASEAN and the ROK agreed to enhance their cooperation in all modes of transportation, namely aviation, roadway, railway, sea, and inland waterway. The 2nd ATM+ROK Meeting held on 12 November 2010 in Bandar Seri Begawan endorsed the ASEAN-ROK Transport Cooperation Roadmap, as well as the 27 joint projects for implementation for the year 2010-2014. Subsequently, the 3rd ATM+ROK Meeting and the 4th ATM+ROK Meeting were held on 16 December 2011 and 30 November 2012, respectively.

The inaugural ACCC-ROK Meeting on Connectivity was convened on 10 June 2013 in Balikpapan, Indonesia. The two sides are exploring potential cooperation in the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC), especially in the areas of infrastructure and Information and Communications Technology (ICT), people-to-people and mobilisation of innovative financing for connectivity, including through public-private partnership.

In the area of tourism, figures for 2012 shows a slight increase in the number of Korean tourist arrivals to ASEAN Member States by 1.3 per cent at 3.91 million from 3.86 million the previous year. On the other hand, ASEAN tourist arrivals to the ROK grew by 12.5 per cent at 1.4 million from 1.24 million in 2011.

In order to support the efforts to increase the volume of trade, accelerate investment flow, invigorate tourism, and enrich cultural exchanges between ASEAN and the ROK, ASEAN and the ROK agreed to establish an ASEAN-Korea Centre at the 10th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 14 January 2007 in Cebu. The ASEAN-Korea Centre was launched in March 2013 in Seoul, the ROK. The Centre plays a pivotal role to increase the volume of trade, accelerate investment flow, invigorate tourism, and enrich cultural exchanges between ASEAN and the ROK.

In order to narrow the information gap and strengthening competitiveness in information and communication technology (ICT), ASEAN welcomed the ROK’s initiative on the Korea-ASEAN ICT Partnership Project as a new collaborative plan from 2012 to 2016. The project will focus on priority areas such as ICT infrastructure, new technology, capacity building, and ICT knowledge sharing. Several projects have been implemented throughout 2011-2013.

In the area of science and technology, a Consultation between ASEAN and the ROK was held on 5 December 2011 in Jeju, the ROK. The Consultation discussed the direction of Science and Technology cooperation between ASEAN and the ROK, overview of the existing priorities within ASEAN, and the proposed establishment of ASEAN-ROK Joint Science and Technology Committee (JSTC).

Socio-Cultural Cooperation

People-to-people contacts continue to be an important area of ASEAN-ROK cooperation. Exchange programmes have been conducted in the areas of culture, government officials, media, youth, and academics with the funding support of the Future Oriented Cooperation Projects (FOCP) Fund.

In culture and arts, the ASEAN-Korea Centre has played a vital role in raising the awareness of the culture and arts of ASEAN Member States and the ROK. In 2012, the ASEAN-Korea Centre had organised two events, namely, the “ASEAN Culture and Tourism Fair 2012” convened in both Seoul and Yeosu, the ROK on 6-10 June 2012, which showcased a variety of cultural programs and performances – including diverse traditional dances, folk songs, and instrumental music by more than 70 member cultural troupes invited from 10 ASEAN Member States; and “Bravo! ASEAN in Korea” from 15 September to 27 October 2012, a music and dance contest for ASEAN residents in the ROK. In addition, the ROK has convened three Training Projects for ASEAN Children’s Librarians since 2010. The 2012 Training Projects was convened from 10 to 26 September 2012. The 2013 Training Project was conducted on 14-30 October 2013. This Training Project aimed at developing children’s library service and enhancing professionalism of children’s librarians in ASEAN Member States.

In media cooperation, the ASEAN-ROK Media People Exchanges Programme has been conducted since 2008. The 2012 programme was conducted with the Korean media people’s visit to Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar from 17 to 22 August 2012 and ASEAN media people visit to the ROK from 16 to 21 September 2012. The 2013 Korean media personnel visit to ASEAN was held on 20 to 26 October 2013, and the visit of ASEAN media personnel to Korea was held in November 2013. An ASEAN-ROK Film Community Establishment was successfully concluded in February 2012. Exchanges between Southeast Asian and Korean film leaders have been initiated by this project, i.e. One Asia in Film, offering an opportunity to Southeast Asian countries to realise the importance of establishing film commissions. As part of the follow-up action to the outcome of the ASEAN-ROK Film Community Establishment Project, an ASEAN-ROK Film Leaders Incubator was implemented in 2012. This project aimed at discovering and nurturing young and talented film professionals in the ASEAN region and laid the foundation for the establishment of film education institutions in the ASEAN region.

In the area of youth, many activities have been conducted since 1998. Some of the recurring programmes are: a) ASEAN-Korea Youth Exchange and Cultural Community Building Programme; b) ASEAN-Korea Frontiers Forum; c) ASEAN-Korea Youth Square; d) ASEAN-Korea Forum and Advanced Seminar; and e) ASEAN-Korea Future-oriented Cooperation Project: Youth Exchange Programme. These programmes aim at strengthening closer relations and promoting better understanding for the future generations.

Cooperation in education is also progressing very well. Three programmes have thus far been implemented, namely the international college student exchange programmes between ASEAN and the ROK, which were conducted annually from 2006 to 2011, the ASEAN-Korea Academic Exchange Programme conducted annually since 2006, and the ASEAN Millennium Leaders College Student Exchange Programme conducted since 2010. The ROK also provided funding for ASEAN-ROK Scholarship for Korean Studies Programme coordinated by the ASEAN University Network (AUN). These scholarship programmes have been on-going since 2010.

The progress on the establishment of the ASEAN-ROK Cyber University, an initiative proposed at the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in June 2009, is also going well. The initiative is carried out by ASEAN University Network and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) of the ROK. The initial focus is on strengthening the capacity of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam in order to facilitate the eventual establishment of the ASEAN-ROK Cyber University.

The cooperation on social welfare and development between ASEAN and the ROK continues to grow with the focus on children, women, older people, and people with disabilities. Several activities have been implemented, namely training workshop on strengthening capacities of communities, practitioners and policy makers to address violence against women and regional workshop on the implementation to the convention on the rights of the children, among others. In addition, ASEAN and the ROK have recently concluded the third phase of the Homecare for the Elderly People in the ASEAN Member States in 2011-2012. The first year of the project was implemented from June 2009 to May 2010 and the second year was implemented from June 2010 – May 2011. More recently, the 2nd Conference on Working Towards a Cyber Pornography and Cyber Prostitution Free Southeast Asia was convened on 23-25 April 2013 in Bohol, Philippines.

On ASEAN-ROK environmental cooperation, the flagship project on Restoration of Degraded Terrestrial Forest and Mangrove Forest Ecosystems in ASEAN Region, implemented since 2006, has concluded its fourth phase in June 2012 and is currently implementing its fifth phase of the project (2012-2013). In addressing climate change, the ROK has announced its “Low-Carbon Green Growth” initiative in dealing with climate change and has expressed its commitment to supporting ASEAN Member States in this area through allocating USD 100 million from its initiative on “East Asia Climate Partnership”. At the 15th ASEAN-ROK Summit, the Leaders expressed their keenness to closely cooperate and exchange best practices on “Low-Carbon Green Growth Policy” and the use of environmentally-friendly technology. The 16th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 9 October 2013 reaffirmed their commitment to work together in addressing major global and transboundary challenges such as climate change and the environment as well as disaster management, including through close cooperation on Low Carbon Green Growth Policy and the use of environment-friendly technology in which ASEAN may learn from ROK’s experience.

Related to ROK’s “Low-Carbon Green Growth” initiative, the ROK proposed a flagship project, namely the establishment of Asian Forest Cooperation Organisation (AFoCO) at the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit held in Jeju Island in June 2009. At the 13th ASEAN-ROK Summit held in October 2010, the Leaders considered a phased approach towards the establishment of AFoCO. Subsequently, on the sideline of the 14th ASEAN-ROK Summit, the Agreement between ASEAN and the ROK on Forest Cooperation was signed. The Agreement aims to strengthen forestry cooperation and enhance the capacity in dealing with climate change in the region. The Agreement entered into force on 5 August 2012. ASEAN and the ROK are now considering an extension of the Agreement after its current term expires in August 2014.

On disaster management, the ASEAN Leaders encouraged the ROK to consider providing technological support to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre). Furthermore, the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference 10+1 Session with ROK on 1 July 2013 noted the successful convening of ARF DiREX 2013 and 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit, which provide important opportunities to enhance the capabilities of ASEAN and ROK in the area of disaster and water management capabilities.

Narrowing Development Gap

The ROK has been supporting ASEAN efforts in narrowing the development gap through the implementation of the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) projects. The ROK contributed USD 5 million to support 5 IAI projects between 2003 and 2007, which were undertaken by KOICA. At the 12th ASEAN-ROK Summit, the ROK committed that it would continue to support the IAI and decided to contribute its second and third tranche of USD 5 million each, for IAI for the year 2008-2012 and 2013-2017, and also to double Official Development Assistance (ODA) to ASEAN by 2015, and to share its experiences in economic and social development by dispatching volunteers under its World Friends Korea initiative. At the 16th ASEAN-ROK Summit on 9 October 2013, the ASEAN Leaders also encouraged the ROK to support the implementation of the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009-2015) and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan II (2009-2015).

For the second tranche of USD 5 million for IAI for the period of 2008-2012, two projects were approved, namely: (a) Strengthening CLMV Capacity for ASEAN-ROK Cyber University and (b) Multi-purpose Rainwater Management Project for the 4 ASEAN Countries Sharing the Mekong River.

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