By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and South Korea concluded three years of negotiations on a free trade agreement on Wednesday, hoping to build on a more than 15% jump in bilateral trade last year to $2.5 billion (£2.1 billion).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement, Israel’s first with an Asian country, and praised South Korea as a “global leader, a vibrant, advanced economy”.
“Our partnership will do tremendous good for both our economies,” he said during a meeting with South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee.
“I’m sure it will multiply our trade…I think that this will also offer for Israeli consumers decreased prices, removal of customs, for example from Korean cars.”
Under the deal, more than 95% of Israeli exports will be exempt from customs duties while importers and consumers will save some 100 million shekels (£23 million) a year, the Economy Ministry said.
Nearly half of Israeli exports to South Korea are machinery, electrical and medical equipment. They also include fertilisers, cosmetics and juices.
Customs duties will be eliminated on imports from South Korea, the world’s 11th largest economy, including cars and auto parts, toys, appliances and electronic components.
The Economy Ministry said South Korea currently has 15 free trade agreements with various countries and trading blocs, including the U.S., the EU, India and China. The free trade agreement between Israel and South Korea, it said, will assist in “equalizing Israel’s trade terms” with those countries.
“Both countries, South Korea and Israel, we have a lot of similarities and also we have complementary economic structure,” Yoo said. “Based on this free trade agreement I’m sure that it will further promote our trade and investment as well as further promote our technology cooperation.”
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; editing by Gareth Jones)