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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU, S. Korea Kick Off Trade Talks

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea and the European Union kicked off their first round of free trade talks Monday, while protesters denounced the effort as a threat to local jobs.

Chief negotiators Kim Han-soo for South Korea and Ignacio Garcia Bercero for the EU smiled and shook hands across a table at the Seoul hotel where they and their teams are to meet for five days.

The effort by South Korea and the 27-member EU comes amid a flurry of bilateral free trade agreements and negotiations as talks toward a new multilateral global trade pact continue to flounder.

South Korea reached a landmark deal last month with the United States and has concluded other agreements as well, including a group accord with nine of the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Seoul is also hammering out a deal with Canada and has expressed interest in striking one with China. Negotiations with neighboring Japan, however, have been suspended amid bickering over agriculture.

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong, formally announcing the beginning of the talks Sunday, called opening up his trade-dependent country's market "a matter of survival."

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, speaking to reporters Sunday in Seoul with Kim, said bilateral free trade agreements did not contradict efforts to forge a multilateral deal under the World Trade Organization, but helped fill key gaps even as a global accord remains the prime goal.

That effort has stalled mostly due to disagreements over rich nations' refusal to slash farm subsidies and poor countries' reluctance to grant greater access to their markets.

South Korea and the EU did nearly $80 billion of trade last year.