London (AFP) – South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee began a three-day state visit to the UK on Tuesday, with a pomp-filled ceremonial welcome from King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
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Yoon and his wife, who landed in Britain on Monday, will receive the full red-carpet treatment during the event-packed tour — the first state visit by a South Korean leader in a decade and the first to be hosted by Charles since his coronation in May.
It began with a ceremonial welcome on Tuesday morning from Queen Camilla and Charles, his son and heir Prince William and wife Catherine, as well as Sunak and Foreign Secretary David Cameron.
The visiting couple moved on to a private lunch at Buckingham Palace, before a visit to Westminster Abbey — where Charles was crowned six months ago — and parliament.
They were then to attend a grand evening state banquet back at the palace.
The trip is also about business.
Yoon and Sunak were set to agree on deepening cooperation and their ministers to launch negotiations on an upgraded free trade deal.
“Trade and investment is expected to be a key focus of the visit,” Downing Street said in advance.
It added that the two countries would launch talks for “an upgraded modern, world-leading Free Trade Agreement (FTA)” on the second day.
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 was to address lawmakers in parliament during his stop there.
He will deliver the speech, expected to be in English, on bilateral ties between the two countries and how to boost the relationship in future, according to South Korean media.
His office has said the visit represents a “sign that London considers Seoul a key partner in global cooperation and the Indo-Pacific region”.
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, 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.
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.
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 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”.