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S.Korean president addresses UK lawmakers on first day of state visit

S.Korean president addresses UK lawmakers on first day of state visit

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21 November 2023

London (AFP) -

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told lawmakers in Britain's parliament Tuesday that relations between the two nations 'will be reborn' as he began a pomp-filled three-day state visit.

Yoon addressed MPs and peers, assembled in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords, during an event-packed first day in the British capital.

He highlighted the intertwined history of the two nations before looking forward to deepening ties on Wednesday by signing an agreement on a number of topics -- known as the 'Downing Street Accord' -- and opening negotiations on a beefed up trade deal.

'We will begin negotiations to modernise the FTA (trade deal) to strengthen cooperation and supply chains and digital trade,' said Yoon.

'Tomorrow Prime Minister (Rishi) Sunak and I will sign the Downing Street Accord. Our bilateral relations will be reborn as true global strategic partners,' he added.

The two countries were set to broaden cooperation on AI, cybersecurity, nuclear energy and defence, along with working to tackle North Korea's threat, said the president.

Earlier, Yoon and his wife, First Lady Kim Keon Hee, enjoyed a ceremonial welcome loaded with traditional pageantry from King Charles III and Sunak.

Charles's wife Queen Camilla, his son and heir Prince William and wife Catherine, and newly-appointed Foreign Secretary David Cameron, were among those also on hand for the regal reception.

The first foreign leaders hosted by Charles since his coronation in May, South Korea's first couple are receiving the full red carpet treatment in London.

After a private lunch at Buckingham Palace and visit to Westminster Abbey -- where Charles was crowned six months ago -- they will attend a grand evening state banquet back at the palace.

- 'Springboard' -

The UK government is keen to strike new deals with countries around the world following its departure from the European Union, particularly with fast-growing economies in the Indo-Pacific region.

'Trade and investment is expected to be a key focus of the visit,' Downing Street said in advance, with a more expansive trade deal on the agenda.

Yoon told his cabinet last week: 'The upcoming visit will serve as a springboard for further deepening economic cooperation between the two countries,' according to local media.

That cooperation will centre on science and technology, with South Korea aiming to expand business opportunities and high-tech industry supply chains, he added.

Major business figures, including Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong and Hyundai Motor boss Chung Eui-sun, have joined Yoon on the visit.

'As two nations focused on innovation, harnessing new technologies and defending the international rules-based order, the UK and Republic of Korea are natural partners,' Sunak said.

The UK last year launched a consultation on an enhanced free trade agreement to upgrade the existing accord, which replicates the European Union's agreement with South Korea.

- New accord -

Total trade in goods and services between the UK and South Korea was £16.1 billion ($20.1 billion) in the year to the end of June.

UK Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch will launch the trade talks on Wednesday with her South Korean counterpart at a UK-Korea business forum taking place alongside the state visit.

The two countries are set to announce £21 billion of investments in green energy and infrastructure projects across the UK at the forum, according to her ministry.

It noted that the current trade pact between them does not include specific chapters on digital parts of their economies.

Badenoch said an enhanced deal would boost Britain's vital services sector, while also creating 'new opportunities' for UK exports in food and luxury goods sectors.

Defence cooperation will also be on Yoon's agenda, with both countries pledging to step up joint training and operations 'to create the most comprehensive exercise regime between the UK and any partner other than the US'.

It comes as North Korea launched what it claims is a spy satellite, Seoul said Tuesday, in Pyongyang's third attempt this year to get a military eye in the sky.