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E-commerce in South Korean FTAs: Policy Priorities and Provisional Inconsistencies

  • Evan Y. Kim (a1)

The e-commerce chapters in South Korea's Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) cover a wide range of issues, ranging from non-discrimination to electronic signatures. Across the agreements, the country's provisions on consumer protection, paperless trading, and data protection are uniquely consistent, while those on other issues are not. With the aid of a framework (Framer v. Follower) that captures the dynamics of bilateral negotiations, this paper argues that in Korea's case, the more consistent a particular set of provisions is portfolio-wide, the more likely it was for Korea to have prioritized the relevant issue and actively pushed its preferred terms in the FTAs.

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1 Among the six countries, all except Colombia define the term ‘digital products’ in their respective Definitions section.

2 Footnote 4, Art. 15.9, US–Korea FTA.

3 Art. 7.48.3, EU–Korea FTA; Art. 13.3, China–Korea FTA.

4 Art. 14.4.1, Singapore–Korea FTA; Art. 14.4.1, Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 15.3.1(a), US–Korea FTA; Art. 13.3.1, Canada–Korea FTA; Art. 14.3, Central America–Korea FTA.

5 Art. 7.48.3, EU–Korea FTA.

6 Art. 15.3, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.3, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.2.1, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

7 Art. 12.2.2, Colombia–Korea FTA.

8 Art. 9.4, Singapore–Turkey FTA; Art. 14.5, Singapore–Australia FTA; Art. 13.3, Singapore–Panama FTA; Art. 12.4, Singapore–Costa Rica FTA; Art. 14.3, Singapore–US FTA.

9 Art. 16.4, US–Australia FTA; Art. 13.4, US–Bahrain FTA; Art. 15.4, US–Chile FTA; Art. 15.3, US–Colombia FTA; Art. 14.3, US–Morocco FTA: Art. 14.1, US–Oman FTA.

10 Cho, Hyung Keun, Electronic Commerce 392 (National Assembly Research Service, 2012).

11 Art. 15.3.5, US–Korea FTA.

12 ‘Each Party shall adopt or maintain measures regulating electronic commerce taking into account the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce and, as appropriate, other international standards, guidelines and recommendations’. Art. 15.4, Australia–Korea FTA; ‘Each Party shall endeavor to adopt or maintain its domestic laws and regulations governing electronic transactions taking into account the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce 1996’. Article 10.4, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

13 Monteiro, Jose-Antonio and Teh, Robert, Provisions on Electronic Commerce in Regional Trade Agreements (World Trade Organization: Economic Research and Statistics Division, 2017), 38.

14 Art. 13.4.4, China–Korea FTA.

15 Monteiro and Teh, supra note 16, at 45.

16 Footnote 5, Art. 13.4.2(a), China–Korea FTA.

17 Footnote 4, Art. 13.4.2(a), China–Korea FTA.

18 The three FTAs are Australia–Korea FTA, China–Korea FTA, and Vietnam–Korea FTA.

19 In US constitutional law, intermediate scrutiny – the second highest level of judicial review – requires that the challenged law or policy ‘must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives’. Craig v. Boren, 429 US 190, 220, 97 S. Ct. 451, 469, 50 L. Ed. 2d 397 (1976).

20 Art. 14.8, Peru–Korea FTA.

21 Peru–Korea FTA Negotiation History 1 (Korea Ministry of Government Legislation, 2011).

22 Kwon, Ki Soo and Park, Mi Sook, The Purpose and Possible Utilization Methods of Peru–Korea FTA (Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, 2011), 15; ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Commercial and Industrial Cooperation’, Republic of Korea–Colombia, 10 March 2009.

23 Kwon & Park, supra note 25, at 1.

24 ‘Knowledge Sharing Program in the Past Decade’ (Korea Ministry of Economy and Finance, 2015), 60; Jang Saeng Kim, ‘Korea's Innovation to Knowledge Sharing Program’ (Korea Development Institute, 2012).

25 ‘2013 Knowledge Sharing Program: Peru’ (Korea Ministry of Economy and Finance, 2014), 131.

26 Art. 18.3.3, Singapore–Korea FTA; Art. 14.8.2, Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 15.5.3, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.4.3, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.3.2, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

27 Monteiro & Teh, supra note 16, at 43.

28 Art. 18.3.2, Singapore–Korea FTA; Art. 15.4.1, US–Korea FTA; Art. 15.5.1, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.4.2, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.3.1, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

29 Monteiro & Teh, supra note 16, at 43.

30 Digital business in South Korea: Overview, Westlaw Practical Law Country Q&A 6-618-1666; see also The Korean Electronic Signature Act (ESA).

31 Out of six FTAs that include digital authentication provisions, those with Singapore, Australia, and Vietnam specifically stipulate the interoperability of electronic signatures or certificates.

32 Art. 18.3.2, Singapore–Korea FTA; Art. 15.4.1, US–Korea FTA; Art. 15.5.1, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.4.2, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.3.1, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

33 Monteiro & Teh, supra note 16, at 47.

34 Art. 1505, Peru–Canada FTA; Art. 16.4.2, Honduras–Canada FTA; Art. 15.03.2, Panama–Canada FTA; Art. 1504, Colombia–Canada FTA.

35 Monteiro & Teh, supra note 16, at 47.

36 Sohn, Kyung Han, ‘Privacy and Security Protection under Korean E-Commerce Law and Proposal for Its Improvements’, 33 Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law (2016), 229, 235.

37 Blythe, Stephen E., ‘The Tiger on the Peninsula is Digitized: Korean E-Commerce Law as a Driving Force in the World's Most Computer-Savvy Nation’, 28 Houston Journal of International Law (2006), 573, 575; Digital business in South Korea: Overview, Westlaw Practical Law Country Q&A 6-618-1666.

38 Sohn, supra note 39, at 236.

39 Art. 14.6.1, Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 15.6.1, US–Korea FTA; Art. 15.7.1, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.5.1, Canada–Korea FTA; Art. 13.6.1, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.7.1, Vietnam–Korea FTA; Art. 12.4.1, Colombia–Korea FTA; Art. 14.6.1, Central America–Korea FTA.

40 Art. 14.6.2, Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 15.6.2, US–Korea FTA; Art. 15.7.2, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.5.2, Canada–Korea FTA; Art. 13.6.2, China–Korea FTA; Art. 10.7.2, Vietnam–Korea FTA; Art. 12.4.2, Colombia–Korea FTA; Art. 14.6.2, Central America–Korea FTA.

41 ‘In developing initiatives which provide for the use of paperless trading, each Party shall take into account the methods agreed by international organizations’. Art. 15.7.3, Australia–Korea FTA.

42 ‘Each Party shall, where possible, work towards the implementation of initiatives which provide for the use of paperless trading’. Art.10.7.3, Vietnam–Korea FTA.

43 Cho, supra note 13, at 396.

44 Ibid.; Art 4(1), Korea Framework Act on Electronic Commerce, 2009.

45 Art. 15.6.1, Australia–Korea FTA. Similarly,the rest of the similar provisions employ the phrase ‘recognize the importance of maintaining and adopting’ or ‘shall endeavor to adopt or maintain’. See Art. 15.5.1, US–Korea FTA; Art. 14.5.1., Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 13.6.1, Canada–Korea FTA; Art. 10.5.1, Vietnam–Korea FTA; Art. 12.5.1, Colombia–Korea FTA; Art. 14.4.1, Central America–Korea FTA.

46 Art. 14.7.2, Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 15.8, Australia–Korea FTA; Art. 13.4, Canada–Korea FTA; Art. 13.5, China–Korea FTA; Art. 12.3, Colombia–Korea FTA.

47 Monteiro & Teh, supra note 16, at 52.

49 Kanga Kong, ‘Executives Offer to Quit Over Credit-Card Leaks in South Korea’, Wall Street Journal, 22 January 2014,; Sophia Yan and K. J. Kwon, Massive data theft hits 40% of South Koreans, CNN, 21 January 2014,; Credit card details on 20 million South Koreans stolen, BBC, 20 January 2014,

50 Art. 14.9(c), Peru–Korea FTA; Art. 13.7(c), Canada–Korea FTA.

51 Art. 12.6(d), Colombia–Korea FTA; Art. 14.7(b), Central America–Korea FTA.

52 Monteiro and Teh, supra note 16, at 59.

53 Art. 15.7, US–Korea FTA.

54 Art. 13.7, China–Korea FTA.

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