South Korean President Yoon Kicks off Three-day UK State Visit

South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon-hee walk to a waiting car from an aircraft after landing at London Stansted Airport on November 20, 2023, for a two-day state visit to the UK. Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP

London, United Kingdom -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee begin a three-day trip to the UK on Tuesday, with King Charles III hosting his first state visitors since his coronation.

Yoon will receive the full red carpet treatment, attending a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and lunching with the king and his wife, Queen Camilla.

But it will also be about business, with Yoon and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set to agree on deepening cooperation and launch negotiations on an upgraded free-trade deal.

"Trade and investment is expected to be a key focus of the visit, with... trade secretaries from both countries preparing to sign an agreement to launch the negotiations for an upgraded modern, world-leading Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on Wednesday," said Downing Street.

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.

President Yoon will address parliament in a visit that his office says is a "sign that London considers Seoul a key partner in global cooperation and the Indo-Pacific region".

Yoon will deliver the speech, expected to be in English, on bilateral ties between the two countries and how to boost the relationship going forward, according to South Korean media.

- Defence ties -

Charles's eldest son and heir Prince William and wife Catherine will meet the visitors on Tuesday morning, joining them for an official welcoming ceremony at Horse Guards Parade in central London.

The couple will then get the full royal treatment, attending a grand state banquet at the nearby palace.

It is the first time the king has hosted a state visit since he was officially crowned in May.

Yoon told his cabinet last week that "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 chief Chung Eui-sun will join 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 ahead of the visit.

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

UK ministers are eyeing an expansion of exports in digital, business and financial services.

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 second quarter this year.

Defence cooperation will also be on the 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", said Downing Street.

Science ministers from both countries are also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on space cooperation, it added.


© Agence France-Presse

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