I have just landed in Seoul, where we are holding a summit tomorrow between the EU and South Korea. European Council President Donald Tusk and myself will be present from the EU side at the summit, where everything from economic cooperation, to climate and energy and security issues will be discussed.
The same day as the summit, I will also meet my South Korean counterpart to discuss how the free trade agreement between the EU and South Korea is working in practice.
Brussels-Seoul is a long way to travel, so it is quite incredible how despite the great geographical distance, our economies are closely intertwined.
Five years ago, the EU and the Republic of Korea signed our free trade agreement. It was the first deal the EU has ever concluded with an Asian partner and a very different animal compared to the trade deals negotiated in the past. We decided to not only remove most import duties, but also create new opportunities for our service providers and lay the ground for removal of many bureaucratic and technical constraints standing in the way of exports.
The agreement was welcomed in Europe with high hopes, but also with some doubts.
Today, looking at the trade statistics of the past few years, we can clearly see how effective the agreement has proven to be so far. European exports are now 55% higher than the year before we started applying the deal. For some products, like motor vehicles, this means that sales in Korea tripled over this four-year period. And let me point out that back when this deal was ironed out, this particular sector feared possible negative consequences of the agreement. Producers in other sectors, such as machinery and appliances, transport equipment, chemical and mineral products, have also seen great opportunities coming their way since the entry into force of the agreement.
Not all the transitional periods are over yet, and not all the provisions of the deal are fully in place. Today and tomorrow, I'll be discussing with my Korean counterpart how to make sure that everything we agreed on is properly put in place, to the benefit of our consumers and companies.
Still, more EU firms could benefit from this agreement. More than a third - 35% - of European exports that could be exported duty free were still taxed at the Korean border last year. Needless to say, we need to keep informing our entrepreneurs about their possibilities.
Our Korean partners have also benefited from the deal, and the "floods of Korean products" that some alarmist voices in Europe predicted back in 2011 haven't materialised.
The results of the EU-Korea free trade agreement motivates me to deliver on the rest of our trade policy agenda. This is a prime example of how trade agreements can have a positive impact on the EU economy.