South Korea, UAE agree to slash import duties, strengthen ties

By Jack Kim and Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea and the United Arab Emirates signed a trade agreement at a summit on Wednesday to sharply cut import duties and forge closer business and investment ties.

«The special bond between the two leaders serves as an opportunity» to advance the countries’ strategic partnership, the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a statement.

The Seoul summit, attended by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, follows Yoon’s state visit last year to Abu Dhabi and focused on energy and defence, as South Korea seeks to tap the investment potential of the energy-rich Gulf state.

Yoon’s office said the UAE reaffirmed last year’s pledge of $30 billion in investment for South Korean businesses, in areas from nuclear power and defence to hydrogen and solar energy.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company signed a letter of intent for Hanwha Ocean and Samsung Heavy Industries to build at least six LNG carriers valued at about $1.5 billion, it said.

Industry ministers formally signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement agreed in October that will remove all tariffs on South Korean arms exports when it is ratified, South Korea said.

South Korea has signed a series of global defence equipment contracts as part of its plans to become the world’s fourth-largest defence exporter by 2027.

The UAE will also drop import duty on automobiles over the next decade, while South Korea’s tariffs on crude oil imports will be removed.

The deal will eventually scrap tariffs on more than 90% of the imports of both nations.

«South Korea’s crude oil imports from the UAE are expected to increase,» Seoul’s Minister of Trade Cheong In-kyo told a press conference, underlining the country’s dependence on energy imports.

The UAE is expected to sign a CEPA with Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines in the next few months, Minister of Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi said.

On Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammed met the leaders of some of South Korea’s top conglomerates including Jay Y. Lee of Samsung Electronics (KS:005930), SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and Kim Dong-kwan of Hanwha Group, which has emerged as a major defence contractor.

No new arms deal was unveiled, but Yoon’s office said both aim to boost cooperation of their defence industries.


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