South Korean President starts Europe trip

Lee Myung-Bak departed for a week-long visit to Germany, Denmark and France.

Seoul: South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak departed on Sunday for a week-long visit to Germany, Denmark and France aimed at cementing ties before a sweeping free trade pact with the European Union takes effect.

Lee will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff to discuss expanding trade and investment with the continent`s largest economy in areas including renewable energy, Seoul`s presidential office said.

In Copenhagen, Lee will sign a joint strategic partnership with Denmark and deals to launch more joint projects on renewable energy, before meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the last leg of a trip ending on Saturday.

"The tour has an added significance as it comes on the eve of... the Korea-EU FTA, tentatively set for July 01," the presidential office said earlier.

Seoul lawmakers last week ratified a free trade agreement with the EU in a deal South Korea said would allow its companies to tap deeper into the world`s largest market.

The trade accord, already approved by Europe`s Parliament in February, is the most ambitious the EU has negotiated, and its first with an Asian nation.

Under the pact the EU called "a landmark agreement," the two sides will axe 98 percent of customs duties within five years, apart from those on a few Korean farm products.

Two-way trade in 2009 was worth EUR 53.5 billion (USD 72.8 billion), with South Korean exports -- mainly cars, ships, electronics and semiconductors -- accounting for EUR 32 billion.

Bureau Report

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