EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement
Since 2011, the EU and South Korea trade agreement has eliminated customs duties on nearly all products. It has also removed many other obstacles to exporting EU products, such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics and chemicals. Many services between the EU and South Korea have also been opened up for investors and for businesses to trade.
The agreement at a glance
Since 2011, the EU-South Korea trade agreement has eliminated customs duties on nearly all products (98.7%), including fisheries and agricultural products. It has also removed non-tariff barriers (NTB) to the exports of key EU products to South Korea, such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics and chemicals. Not the least, services markets in both the EU and South Korea have largely opened to businesses and investors from each other.
In the first five years of the agreement, EU exports to South Korea increased by 55%, European companies saved €2.8 billion in reduced customs duties, and trade in goods between the EU and South Korea reached a record level of over €90 billion.
- removes tariffs and other trade barriers and makes it easier for companies on both sides to export and import
- simplifies paperwork and streamlines technical regulations, customs procedures, rules of origin and product testing requirements
- boosts trade services in key sectors such as telecommunications, environmental services, shipping, and financial and legal services
- improves the protection of intellectual property rights in South Korea and recognises a large variety of geographical indications for high-quality European food products on the Korean market
- allows your company to bid for public procurement tenders in South Korea
- offers better protection for your bilateral investments
Quick facts on EU-South Korea trade
- South Korea is the EU's eighth-largest export destination for goods, and the EU is South Korea's third-largest export market
- the most significant product exports from the EU to South Korea are machinery and appliances, transport equipment, and chemical products
- the EU has a significant trade in services with South Korea
- the EU is South Korea's biggest foreign direct investor
Who can export from the EU under the EU-South Korea free trade agreement?
If your company is registered in an EU Member State and you have acquired a valid customs declaration – and where necessary, an export licence – you can export under this agreement.
The EU-South Korea free trade agreement eliminates 98.7% of tariffs on trade in goods.
Here are some of the benefits for EU exporters
- machinery and appliances enjoy the largest duty savings, with gains close to €450 million
- the chemical sector is the second-largest beneficiary, with duty savings of €175 million
- nearly all EU agricultural exports, such as pork, wine and whiskey, enjoy duty-free access to the South Korean market, and there are valuable duty-free quotas for products like cheese
- in other industrial sectors
- 93% of customs duties on textiles exports have disappeared
- for glass 85% of customs duties have been eliminated
- for leather and fur 84%
- footwear 95%
- iron and steel 93%
- optical instruments 91%
Find the tariff rate applicable to your product in My Trade Assistant.
Rules of origin
In order to qualify for preferential treatment, your product will need to satisfy the rules of origin under the agreement. Please check the interactive “Rules of Origin Self Assessment tool (ROSA)” in My Trade Assistant to assess whether your product fulfils the rules of origin and find out how to prepare the correct documents.
Origin is the 'economic nationality' of traded goods. If you are new to the topic, you can find an introduction to the main concepts in the goods section.
Rules of origin
Where can I find the rules?
Rules of origin are set out in the Protocol concerning the definition of ‘originating products’ and method of administrative cooperation of the EU-South Korea free trade agreement (OJ L127, 14.5.2011, p. 1,344).
Does my product originate in the EU or South Korea?
For your product to qualify for the lower or zero preferential tariff under the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, it must originate in the EU or South Korea. A product is considered to originate in the EU or in South Korea if it is
- wholly obtained in the EU or South Korea or
- produced exclusively from materials originating in the EU or South Korea or
- produced in the EU or Korea using non-originating materials provided that such materials have undergone sufficient working or processing by fulfilling the product specific rules set out in Annex II
See Annex IIa for alternative product-specific rules for certain products.
Examples of the main types of product specific rules in EU trade agreements
- the value-added rule – the value of all of the non-originating materials in a product cannot exceed a certain percentage of its ex-works price
- the change of tariff classification – the production process results in a change of tariff classification between the non-originating materials and the final product, for example production of paper (Harmonized System Chapter 48) from non-originating pulp (Harmonized System Chapter 47)
- specific operations – a specific production process is required, for example spinning of fibres into yarn – such rules are mostly used in the textiles clothing and chemical sectors
The product also needs to fulfil all other applicable requirements specified in the Chapter (for example insufficient working or processing, the direct transport rule). There are also some additional flexibilities that that will help you comply with product specific rules (for example tolerance or cumulation).
Tips to help you comply with the product specific rules
Additional flexibility is foreseen to help you comply with product specific rules, such as tolerance or cumulation.
The tolerance rule allows producers to use non-originating materials worth up to 10% of the ex-works price that are normally prohibited by the product-specific rule
- this tolerance cannot be used to exceed any maximum-value threshold of non-originating materials listed in the product specific rules
- specific tolerances apply to textiles and clothing classified in Harmonized System Chapters 50 to 63, which are included in Notes 5 and 6 of the Annex 1 Introductory notes to the list in Annex II
The agreement also allows for bilateral cumulation. Materials originating in South Korea can be counted as originating in the EU when used in the manufacture of a product in the EU and vice versa.
Your product must also meet all other applicable requirements of the Protocol (such as insufficient working or processing, or the direct transport rule).
Direct transport rule
Originating products must be transported from the EU to South Korea (and vice-versa) without being further processed in a third country.
Trans-shipment or temporary warehousing in a third country is allowed, if the products remain under customs surveillance and do not undergo operations other than
- any other operation designed to preserve products in good condition
Evidence of the direct transport must be brought to the customs authorities of the importing country.
Under the EU-Korea free trade agreement, it is possible to get a refund on duties previously paid on non-originating materials used to produce a product that is exported under a preferential tariff.
A special mechanism is included to address potential increase in foreign sourcing by Korean manufacturers.
Exporters and importers have to follow the origin procedures. The procedures are set out in Section B of the Protocol on Rules of Origin of the agreement. They clarify, for example, how
- to declare the origin of a product
- to claim preferences
- the customs authorities can verify the origin of a product
How to claim a preferential tariff
Section B of the Protocol on rules of origin of the agreement sets out the origin procedures related to a claim for preferential tariff and the verification by customs authorities.
Importers can claim preferential tariff treatment based on an origin declaration provided by the exporter.
No proof of origin is required when the total value of the products does not exceed
- for import to the EU €500 in case of small packages or €1,200 for personal luggage
- for import to Korea $1,000 in case of small packages or $1,000 for personal luggage
Self-declaration by the exporter
Exporters can self-declare that their product originates in the EU or South Korea by filling an origin declaration. The declaration can be filled out
- by an approved exporter or
- by any exporter provided that the total value of the consignment does not exceed €6,000
The origin declaration cannot be issued by an authorised body and a EUR.1 form will not be accepted as a proof of origin.
The customs authorities of the exporting country may authorise any exporter who exports products under the trade agreement to make origin declarations for products regardless of their value. The exporter must provide sufficient guarantees to the customs authorities that the originating status of the products and the fulfillment of all the other requirements of the agreement (Protocol) can be verified. The customs authorities can withdraw the approved exporter status in the event of any abuse.
What should the origin declaration contain?
- to make an origin declaration you should type, stamp or print the following declaration on the invoice, the delivery note or another commercial document: “The exporter of the products covered by this document (customs authorisation No ...) declares that, except where otherwise clearly indicated, these products are of ... preferential origin”
- the origin declaration can be made in any of the official languages of the EU or in Korean and can be found in Annex III)
- you must sign your origin declaration by hand. If you are an approved exporter, you are exempted from this requirement provided you give your customs authorities a written undertaking that you accept full responsibility for any declaration identifying you
Submission and validity
- an origin declaration may be made by the exporter when the products to which it relates are exported, or after export on condition that it is presented in the importing Party no longer than two years or the period specified in the legislation of the importing Party after the products to which it relates have been imported
- you should be prepared to submit documents proving the originating status of your products together with your origin declaration
- the origin declaration remains valid for 12 months from the date of issue
Verification of origin
The customs authorities may verify whether a product imported is indeed originating or fulfils other origin requirements. The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement is based on the following principles
- verification is based on administrative cooperation between customs authorities of the importing and the exporting Party
- checks on the origin of the products are done by local customs. Visits of the importing Party to the exporter are not allowed, except as provided in Article 27 paragraph 8 of the Protocol.
- the authorities of the exporting Party make the final determination of origin and inform of the results the authorities of the importing Party
The EU and South Korea now cooperate on technical regulations, setting standards and conformity assessments to make it easier for you to trade internationally. This will ensure that you do not waste money and/or time on duplicate or multiple procedures.
You will need to follow these rules so that your products can be evaluated for conformity with the necessary technical standards.
The EU-South Korea trade agreement includes four sector-specific rules on
- electrical and electronic equipment
- pharmaceutical products/medical devices
- motor vehicles and parts
Electrical and electronic equipment
You can now benefit from better recognition of international standards and approval procedures for products in the electronics industry. This will help you enter global supply chains and grow your business.
Before the agreement, EU exporters of consumer electronics and household appliances to South Korea were required to carry out duplicative and expensive testing and certification procedures in South Korea to sell their products. Now, however, you are able to enjoy an improved regulatory environment for your products.
The EU-South Korea trade agreement reduces differences between requirements for European and South Korean products by adopting the same international standards. The relevant international standards bodies for this sector include
- International Standardization Organization (ISO)
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
It eliminates the need for certification by an independent organisation.
- in most cases, you only need a ‘supplier‘s declaration of conformity’ to prove compliance with South Korean requirements regarding electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and safety
- this reduces business costs, complexity and the administrative burden. It allows your products to enjoy the same treatment in South Korea that South Korean products get when they come into the EU
- if the supplier’s declaration of conformity has to be accompanied by test reports, these can be issued by an EU testing laboratory
On electrical safety, South Korea has the option to continue requesting third-party certification for a limited list of 53 items, if it can justify that they pose a risk to human health and safety. These are set out in the trade agreement under Annex 2-B, Appendix 2-B-3.
You can find more information on exporting electrical and electronics equipment here.
The specific electrical and electronics products covered by the agreement and their related provisions can be found in Annex 2-B Electronics and its Appendixes.
Pharmaceutical products and medical devices
Under the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, all rules relating to pharmaceutical products and medical devices must be published at an early stage, to give businesses enough time to understand them.
South Korea now recognises international standards and practices more widely. There is now a common definition of pharmaceutical products and medical devices in the EU and South Korea.
You can read about the pharmaceutical products and medical devices covered by the agreement here: Annex 2-D Pharmaceutical Products and Medical Devices.
The EU and South Korea have agreed to
- make rules available in advance
- provide reasonable opportunities for comments
- address in writing important issues raised in the comments
- allow a reasonable interval between the publication of rules and their entry into force
For pricing and reimbursement, both sides have agreed to ensure that
- procedures, rules, criteria and implementing guidelines are fair, transparent and reasonable, and do not discriminate against EU companies
- criteria for decision-making are objective and clear for EU manufacturers
- all rules are made publicly available
EU manufacturers no longer have to produce cars specifically for the South Korean market or conduct expensive tests to demonstrate compliance with safety standards.
South Korea now accepts UNECE international standards or EU standards as equivalent to all major South Korean technical regulations. If your vehicles comply with these standards, your product does not need to meet any additional requirements to export under the EU-South Korea trade agreement.
Tests conducted in the EU are now recognised by South Korea. South Korea will also recognise EU On-Board Diagnostic Devices that conform to the Euro 6 norm as equivalent to South Korean standards.
You can read more about emission standards here.
Detailed provisions on motor vehicles and parts covered by the agreement can be found under Annex 2-C Motor Vehicles and Parts and its Appendixes.
The trade agreement preserves EU rules and regulations in the chemical sector and introduces cooperation on regulatory transparency in areas such as
- Good Laboratory Practice
- a quality system of management controls for research laboratories and organisations regarding chemical (including pharmaceuticals) non-clinical safety tests
- Test Guidelines to seek a more harmonised approach to chemical assessment and management
You can read about the chemicals covered by the agreement here: Annex 2-E Chemicals .
Contacts for technical rules and standards in South Korea
The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) sets and maintains South Korean standards
- related to established certifications, such as the Korean Certification (KC) mark
- measurement and reference standards
- technical regulations.
Human, animal and plant health - SPS requirements
EU and South Korea cooperate on recognising disease-free areas to increase predictability for you as an exporter.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) is responsible for veterinary controls of
- live animals
- animal products
The Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency is the relevant authority for pest risk analysis for designated plants.
The national Biosafety Clearing House in South Korea provides information and expertise on genetically modified organisms and serves as a place to exchange such information.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the Official Contact Point for inquiries regarding
- nature protection
- prohibitions or restrictions on toxic chemicals
Find the specific rules and requirements for your product in My Trade Assistant.
Technical barriers to trade
Although technical rules are important, at times they can act as a barrier to international trade and can thus be a considerable burden for you as an exporter.
- if you think you are facing a trade barrier that slows your business down or prevents you from exporting, you can tell us
- report what is stopping your exports to the South Korea using the online form and the EU will analyse your situation and take appropriate action
Customs clearance documents and procedures
The agreement ensures more transparent and simplified customs procedures to facilitate trade and reduce costs for businesses.
The step-by-step guides describe the different types of documents you should prepare for the customs clearance of your products.
Depending on your product, the customs authorities may require all or some of the elements below
- entry declaration
- customs import declaration
- declaration of customs value
- commercial invoice (find the specific requirements regarding its form and content in My Trade Assistant)
- packing list
- import licences for certain goods
- certificates showing your product complies with mandatory product regulations, such as health and safety requirements, labelling and packaging
- proof of origin - origin declaration
- air waybill
- bill of lading
For detailed information about the documents you need to present for customs clearance for your product, go to My Trade Assistant .
Procedures for proving and verification of origin
For a description of how to prove the origin of your products to claim a preferential tariff and of the rules relating to the verification of origin by customs authorities, please refer to the section on rules of origin above.
For information on customs procedure for import and export in general, visit DG Taxation and Customs Union.
The EU and South Korea have agreed to
- simplify and streamline border procedures
- harmonise documentation and data requirements
- improve the security of shipping containers and other shipments when
- imported into
- trans-shipped through
- transiting South Korea or EU countries
The agreement sets up a Customs Committee that can discuss and resolve any differences on customs and trade facilitation matters, including
- tariff classification
- origin of goods
- mutual administrative assistance in customs matters
Find the specific customs clearance procedures and documents for your product in My Trade Assistant.
Intellectual Property and Geographical Indications
The EU-South Korea free trade agreement promotes strong enforcement of intellectual property rights by customs authorities and complements the minimum standards in the WTO`s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
You can read more about the benefits of IP rights here.
- the agreement protects an author’s work for 70 years after the death of the author
- performers and producers of phonograms have an additional right to a single equitable remuneration
- companies can extend patent protection for pharmaceuticals by using Supplementary Protection Certificates
- there is a particular focus on counterfeit goods
You can read more about how the EU-South Korea free trade agreement protects your intellectual property rights here.
The European IPR Helpdesk offers a Helpline service for direct support on intellectual property.
The trade agreement provides clear rules for registering trademarks in the EU and South Korea. This gives you the opportunity to oppose the registration of a trademark.
A public electronic database of applications and registrations is available for you to check trademarks. The database also details the rights given to registered and unregistered designs.
What to do if intellectual property is used without permission?
The trade agreement details enforcement measures in case of IPR infringements such as
- civil and administrative proceedings
- criminal procedures
It includes some stronger protections on copyright and designs and enforces IP rights based on EU rules (complementing the WTO TRIPS Agreement)
Customs officials can intervene at the border if they suspect that goods infringing an intellectual property right are being imported or exported.
The EU-South Korea trade agreement protects European Geographical Indications (GIs) for
- wines and spirits
- agricultural products and foodstuffs
The EU has protected about 160 GIs that it sees as the most commercially important.
The agreement lists the GIs that are covered in two attachments.
Wines and spirits are covered in Annex 10-B of the agreement, and include for example:
Champagne, Grappa, Ribera del Duero, Ouzo and Scotch or Irish Whiskey.
Agricultural products and foodstuffs are covered in Annex 10-A of the agreement, and include:
Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Roquefort, Guijuelo, Turrón de Alicante and Bayerisches Bier.
The Geographical Indications are protected against
- describing or presenting a product to suggest that it originates in a geographical area other than the true place of origin, in a misleading way
- using a geographical indication for a similar product not originating there, even if the true origin of the goods is indicated or accompanied by expressions such as ’kind’, ‘style’ or ‘imitation’
Trade in Services
You can benefit from a more open South Korean services market under the trade agreement.
The rules cover
- cross-border provision of services
This means that you can either provide your services from an EU country or establish an office, branch or subsidiary in South Korea if you prefer.
These benefits apply to EU companies in more than 100 services sectors, including
- EU satellite operators (telephone and TV) can operate directly cross-border into South Korea, without having to liaise with or go through a South Korean operator
- treatment of non-industrial wastewater (sewage services).
- EU shipping companies are able to provide international shipping services in South Korea and are treated the same as South Korean companies when using port services and infrastructure
- European companies can also provide a wider range of auxiliary maritime services
- there are more opportunities for auxiliary air transport services such as ground handling
- EU companies are no longer subject to obligatory subcontracting requirements
- EU financial companies can provide more services to South Korea’s financial markets
- EU financial companies can transfer data freely from branches and affiliates in South Korea to their EU headquarters
Postal and express delivery
- EU companies can provide international express delivery services in South Korea
Business and professional services such as legal, accounting, engineering and architectural services
- EU law firms can open offices in South Korea to advise foreign or South Korean clients on non-South Korean law
- EU law firms can form partnerships with South Korean firms and recruit South Korean lawyers to provide ‘multijurisdictional’ services
- EU lawyers can use the job titles they use in the EU
Services not covered by the agreement
- audio-visual services
- domestic maritime transport
- most air transport
- services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority
List of South Korea’s specific commitments to open up its services market to EU companies.
Interested in tendering for government contracts for supplies, services or construction works in South Korea?
The EU-South Korea trade agreement provides you with better opportunities to bid for South Korean government procurement contracts.
South Korea and the EU had already agreed to open up bidding for public procurement contracts to foreign companies under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).
The EU-South Korea trade agreement expands the contracts for which you can compete. In South Korea, EU firms can now bid for ‘build-operate-transfer’ (BOT) contracts (concession services). If your business is an EU construction and service supplier, you can compete for big infrastructure projects in South Korea, such as building and operating highways.
The agreement covers investment in both services and other economic activities, including
The EU and South Korea have agreed to enforce strong competition laws.
The agreement deals with unfair and anti-competitive business practices effectively, including
- abusive behaviour by companies with a dominant market position
- anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions
The agreement ensures that competition rules also apply to state-controlled companies or enterprises and forbids certain types of subsidies seen as particularly harmful to competition
- subsidies covering debts of an enterprise without any limitation or duration
- subsidies to failing enterprises, without a credible restructuring plan to return them to long-term viability without further reliance on state support
Additionally, the trade agreement requires subsidies to be transparent. If either the EU or South Korea use any subsidies, they have to report the total amount, type and supply of the subsidies every year.
These subsidy rules apply to all products, except agriculture and fisheries.
Trade and Sustainable Development
The EU and South Korea have agreed on high labour and environmental standards that protect workers and the environment. The agreement sets up mechanisms to make sure these commitments are met, including through involving civil society.
- there is also a commitment to ratify and effectively implement up-to-date conventions that go beyond the ILO’s core labour standards
- this means that firms in South Korea should also follow minimum labour standards in their workplaces and compete more fairly on labour costs with EU firms
- there is a shared commitment to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) core labour standards and to the decent work agenda
- There is a shared commitment to implement all the multilateral environmental agreements that each trading partner has agreed to. Read more about EU's multilateral environmental agreements.
The EU and South Korea agreed to strong monitoring mechanisms that include public scrutiny. This means you have more information and there are places to raise concerns on labour and environmental issues that affect your business in South Korea.
Links, contacts and documents
Customs agencies, government representatives, chambers of commerce and business associations
Korea Customs Service
Korea Customs Service Building 1, Government Complex-Daejeon, 189 Cheongsa-ro, Seo-gu, Daejeon, 35208, KOREA
World Customs Organisation
Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea
Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea 11th Floor, Seoul Square, 416 Hangang-daero, Jung-gu Seoul, 04637, KOREA
Tel.: +82 23704 1700
Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union
Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union Chaussee de la Hulpe 173-175, 1170 Brussels (Watermael-Boitsfort), BELGIUM
Tel.: + 32 2675 5777
Fax: + 32 2675 5221 / +32 2662 2305
Korea International Trade Association (KITA)
KITA 511, Yeongdongdae-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, KOREA
Tel.: +82 1566 5114
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA)
KOTRA (06792) 13, Heolleung-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul, KOREA
Tel.: +82 1600 7119
Tel.: +82 23460 7432
Fax: +82 23460 7958
EU4Business Secretariat De Kleetlaan 2, B-1831 Diegem BELGIUM Tel: +32 2749 1851 Email: email@example.com
Bank of Korea
67, Sejong-daero Jung-gu, Seoul, 04514, KOREA
Tel.: +82 2759 4114
Contacts for Sanitary/Phytosanitary Requirements (SPS)
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA)
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) Government Complex Sejong 94, Dasom 2-ro KR-339012 Sejong City, KOREA
Tel.: +82 2 61969110
Fax: +82 44 8680846
Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency (QIA)
Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency (QIA) 177, Hyeoksin 8-ro Gyeongsangbuk-do KR-39660 Gimcheon-si, KOREA
Tel.: +82 54 9121000, +82 54 9120605, +82 54 9120627
Fax: +82 54 9120635
Ministry for Food and Drug Safety (MFDS)
Ministry for Food and Drug Safety 187, Osongsaengmyeong 2-ro Osong-eup Heungdeok-gu Cheongju-si Chungcheongbuk-do, KOREA 
Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB)
Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB) 125 Gwahangno Yuseong-gu KR-34141 Daejeon, KOREA
Tel: +82 42 8798300
Fax: +82 42 8798309
Official Contact Point (OCP) for toxic chemicals
Ministry of Foreign Affairs 60, Sajik-ro 8-gil Jongno-gu KR-03172 Seoul, KOREA
Tel: +82 2 21002114, +82 2 21007794
Fax: +82 2 21007999, +82 2 21008470
Contacts for public procurement
Public Procurement Service (PPS)
PPS Headquarters; Government Complex Daejeon Building 3, 189, Cheongsa-ro Seo-gu, Daejeon, KOREA
Tel: +82 7005 67470 Fax: +82 505 480 1211
Korea Online E-Procurement System (KONEPS)
- statistics, useful information and evaulation reports on EU-South Korea trade relations
- EU Gateway Business Avenues in South Korea
- the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) supports smaller businesses seeking to do business abroad
- COSME: Europe’s programme for small and medium-sized enterprises support offered to smaller businesses seeking financial support to access markets abroad
- EU External Relations work on EU-Republic of Korea Relations
- European Union Delegation to South Korea
- EU External Action Service’s report assessing the results of the EU-South Korea Trade Agreement
- The EU-South Korea trade agreement at a glance