Britain to launch South Korea trade talks as president visits

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain rolled out the red carpet for South Korea's president on Tuesday at the start of a state visit intended to deepen diplomatic and business ties between the two countries as they launch talks on a new free trade agreement.

King Charles greeted President Yoon Suk Yeol with a royal guard of honour following his arrival in London, and then rode with him by carriage to Buckingham Palace.

Yoon, a conservative who has cited a "polycrisis" of global challenges as a reason for seeking closer ties with like-minded partners, then addressed lawmakers from both houses of parliament on Tuesday before a state banquet in his honour.

"We must stand in solidarity and respond to many of the world's challenges," Yoon said in his speech, where he celebrated 140 years of diplomatic ties between the nations.

"Korea stands united with the United Kingdom and the international community to fight against illegal aggression and provocations."

He will hold talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, and sign an accord on closer diplomatic ties.

"Through our new Downing Street Accord, we will drive investment, boost trade and build a friendship that not only supports global stability, but protects our interests and lasts the test of time," Sunak said.

In a statement announcing that talks on a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would also start on Wednesday, Sunak said: "I know a Free Trade Agreement fit for the future will only drive further investment, delivering on my promise to grow the economy and support highly skilled jobs."

Under the accord, the countries will agree to work closely on areas such as semiconductors - of which South Korea is an important producer - and artificial intelligence.

The Downing Street Accord will also strengthen the joint ability of the two countries to enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea to prevent development of its nuclear weapons programmes, using sea patrols to prevent smuggling.

Britain said South Korean businesses would invest 21 billion pounds ($26.17 billion) in British renewable energy and infrastructure projects, and announced a clean energy partnership to work together on the transition to green power.


Under Yoon, South Korea has focused on strengthening economic, political, and military ties with the U.S. while seeking to maintain trade with China and working to overcome historical disputes with Japan.

"Korea will work with the United Kingdom to bolster the political and economic security in the Indo-Pacific region," Yoon said, adding that "together, we will tackle North Korea’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) threats."

He said the two countries would also expand cooperation on supply chains, digital, nuclear energy, cybersecurity and defence industry, and paid tribute to Britain's veterans who fought in the Korean War.

He also touched on the lighter side of Anglo-Korean relations, comparing pop bands the Beatles and BTS, as well as the right feet of soccer stars David Beckham and Son Heung Min.

Britain has sought to build ties in Indo-Pacific as part of a tilt in its diplomatic strategy towards the region, and this year completed talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The talks on a new trade deal with South Korea will aim to replace a carry-over agreement from when Britain left the European Union, which was based on replicating a deal with the EU from 2011 and reduced tariffs in a range of areas.

British business and trade minister Kemi Badenoch said a "refreshed, modernised deal" would help British services and export sectors, as it aims to increase digital trade and streamline complex procedures.

($1 = 0.8025 pounds)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young in London, additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Alistair Bell, Stephen Coates, Timothy Heritage and David Gregorio)