Trading in Errors?

by desa on April 5, 2011

If there is any doubt about just how much inaccurate document translations can derail business deals, consider the delays in the Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the European Union. The agreement was signed by the two sides in October 2010 and approved by the EU in mid-February. It seemed set for easy approval in the Korea parliament but has been repeatedly delayed because of translation problems, reportedly more than 200 errors to date.

The agreement is a big deal. Over the next five years it would eliminate 98% of import duties and other trade barriers between Korea and Europe, in manufactured goods, agricultural products and other services. But its ratification has twice been delayed because of the problems.

Imagine the repercussions for private business of such document translation issues.

Another major consideration for both public and private business is at play in this example. Some analysts have suggested that many of the translation choices in the two versions of the agreement (Korean and English) were intentional, designed to benefit each side. A Korea Times article quotes Korean trade law experts who argue that certain provisions suggest advantages for one side or the other. With regard to a provision about Architectural agreements, one expert argued, in the English version “foreign architects would be able to obtain Korean licenses easier than Korean applicants.” Lawyers also claimed that the Korean version used expressions that are hard to interpret, perhaps designed to allow the Korean government to hedge on the intended provisions.

It will be interesting to see if all the document translation problems can be worked out before the agreements July 1st date of effect.


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