S. Korea-China free trade talks reach ’critical stage’

Yonhap | 22 September 2014

S. Korea-China free trade talks reach ’critical stage’

BEIJING, Sept. 22 (Yonhap) — Free trade talks between South Korea and China have reached a "critical stage," a Seoul delegate said Monday, suggesting that both sides were stepping up efforts to produce a breakthrough toward a deal.

The delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, made the remarks as South Korea and China kicked off the 13th round of free trade talks in Beijing earlier in the day, with both sides having hinted that a deal could be possible by the end of this year in spite of differences over sensitive issues.

"Both sides are making efforts to bridge differences in the fields of goods, services, investment, intellectual property rights, rules of origin and environment," the delegate said. "This week, the talks are entering a critical stage."

South Korea’s chief negotiator, Assistant Trade Minister Woo Tae-hee, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Shouwen launched the five-day talks at a hotel in Beijing by shaking hands and exchanging greetings, said another Seoul delegate who attended the opening session.

The delegate, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the mood as "amicable."

The two nations started their formal free trade negotiations in May 2012 and South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to work together to achieve an agreement by the end of 2014 during their summit in early July.

So far, the talks have failed to bridge numerous gaps, but negotiators of both nations gained a "new momentum to push forward a deal" since the agreement was reached between Park and Xi, the delegate said.

"Both sides aim to make their utmost efforts to speed up talks as leaders of the two nations agreed to bolster efforts to settle an agreement by the end of this year," the delegate said, declining to comment on the prospects of this week’s round.

Last week, China’s commerce ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said his ministry was "quite optimistic" about concluding the talks by the end of this year, citing "very good" progress in the drawn-out talks.

Agriculture and fisheries are considered the most sensitive sectors for South Korea, while China categorizes its manufacturing industries, which include the automobile, machinery and oil sectors, as sensitive.

China accounts for more than 30 percent of South Korea’s exports. Two-way trade of goods between South Korea and China totaled about US$270 billion last year, according to Chinese government figures.

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