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Japan, S Korea hold free trade talks amidst demos

Associated Press | 1 November 2004

Japan, South Korea Hold Free Trade Talks

Japan and South Korea opened a new round of free trade talks Monday as nearly 150 labor union members from the two countries clashed with police during a demonstration to oppose the deal.

Stepping up its effort to liberalize trade in the region, Japan has been pursuing free trade agreements with several Asian countries. In July, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed they would aim to reach an accord by the end of 2005.

Meeting for their sixth session since talks began last December, Japanese and South Korean negotiators were to discuss removing tariffs on goods, services, and investments, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The talks were scheduled to last three days, it said.

A ministry spokeswoman said she could not provide details from Monday’s discussions.

About 80 South Korean labor union members flew to the Japanese capital to protest, saying a free trade agreement, or FTA, would allow Japan to dominate the South Korean economy, hurting local businesses and costing jobs. Another 70 Japanese labor union members and civil activists joined them.

"No to FTA," chanted the protesters, who wore matching vests with anti-FTA slogans printed on them in Japanese and Korean.

The protesters clashed with police after they were blocked from delivering a statement to the negotiators at the Foreign Ministry.

"The FTA in the works is designed to benefit only corporate giants, not us ordinary workers," said Lee Ho-dong, a labor union leader from South Korea.

Koizumi has made liberalizing trade with its Asian neighbors a top priority. The government is currently negotiating with South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, and is in preliminary discussions with Indonesia, for trade agreements. Japan and Malaysia will hold another round of talks in Tokyo this week.

Japan currently has free trade pacts with Singapore and Mexico.

Japan exported 3.814 trillion yen (US$35.90 billion; euro 28.09 billion) of products to South Korea in 2003, mainly electronics goods, computer chips and machinery, Japan’s Finance Ministry said.

Imports from South Korea totaled 2.148 trillion yen (US$20.22 billion; euro 15.82 billion), led by oil products, memory chips and computer parts, according to the government trade figures.

The two countries have had rocky relations, with many in South Korea accusing Japan of failing to atone for its brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945, but economic ties have rapidly grown.

 source: AP