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S. Korea, China expected to launch FTA talks in June

Yonhap News, Korea

S. Korea, China expected to launch FTA talks in June

28 April 2011

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea and China are expected to launch free trade negotiations as early as June, an official said Thursday, setting in motion a process to tear down trade barriers between two of Asia’s biggest economies.

Leaders of the two countries plan to discuss the issue when they meet on the sidelines of next month’s three-way summit with Japan, before the sides formally declare the launch of the negotiations, a presidential official said.

"China strongly hopes for a Korea-China FTA and we also recognize the need for it," the official said.

South Korea and China, which are two of Asia’s biggest economies, have studied the possibility of forging a free trade pact for years.

"It is not difficult to start negotiations as a lot of progress has been made in the research into it," the official said. "But we have to wait and see whether it can be concluded" before President Lee Myung-bak leaves office in early 2013.

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, who led Seoul’s FTA talks with the U.S., is expected to lead the negotiations with China because Beijing favors a senior official as its counterpart, a government official said, adding that Kim is "the right person" for the talks.

South Korea signed its first FTA with Chile in 2003 and has since signed free trade deals with six other countries, including India, Singapore and the United States. The Korea-U.S. FTA, however, has been stuck in legislatures of both countries for years.