European automotive suppliers association, CLEPA, is calling for more reciprocity in Free Trade Agreements (FTA) as Europe continues to engage on talks with key trading blocks.

Speaking at this week's CLEPA Annual Reception in Brussels, CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, made the call as debate continues surrounding FTAs in markets in the Far East and India among others.

"The European Commission said they support real free trade," Gales told just-auto at the Annual Reception. "If I look at Korea, it is extremely difficult for our members to get access. Korea for me is basically a closed market - the trade balance last year worsened 24% - that is not what you call a Free Trade Agreement.

"CLEPA can not agree to full trade agreements where people want full access to the European Union, but do not want free access in return. A Free Trade Agreement must deliver free trade."

Gales is now in his second year at the helm of one of Europe's most powerful automotive groupings and noted CLEPA's working groups comprising around 800 people, were gaining the trust of the EC, who valued their "unbiased advice."

The CLEPA chief added he had also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the American Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) with a view to securing harmonisation.

"We fight together for worldwide harmonisation of regulation," said Gales. "It might be ten, 15 years, but we need to start right now. I have very good relations with the new, incoming CEO of MEMA."

The European automotive sector is undergoing significant challenges as the tough economic climate dampens sales, but Gales nonetheless remains optimistic.

"I still firmly believe Europe has a chance - we should never give up," he said. "The auto industry in |Europe is not dead - the UK [for example] has a positive trade balance for the first time in a generation.

"I tell the French government - look at what the UK has done - I know Italy and Sweden are working on that - you need the support of government.

"France is still one of the biggest auto manufacturers in Europe. Same for Italy - we should not accept that production went from 2m units to 450,000 units - it is never too late - we need the can-do attitude."

Gales did not exclude the possibility of further European restructuring however, as the industry grapples with auto purchase decline in some segments, but stressed the need to continue investing in innovation and noted he was asking the European Union for support in that area.

"There were some rumours the suppliers don't need cash because they restructured five years ago, but we need our share of cash," said Gales, who highlighted the importance of the CARS2020 initiative, which was relaunched this week as part of efforts to secure more funding, possibly as much as EUR2bn for the auto sector.

"It is my role to orchestrate lobbying," he said. "We talk to national governments, the national associations talk to governments. We need to get that money."

CLEPA has increased its participation to 103, with 20 new members joining this year.