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S. Korea, China, Japan agree on earlier conclusion of joint study on FTA

Yonhap News, Korea

S. Korea, China, Japan agree on earlier conclusion of joint study on FTA

24 April 2011

TOKYO, April 24 (Yonhap) — Top trade officials from South Korea, China and Japan agreed Sunday to conclude a joint study on the feasibility of a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) at an earlier date, South Korean officials said.

The agreement calls for the three countries to get the study, launched last year with industrial, government and academic figures of the participating nations, done before the summit the nations’ leaders will hold next year in China. A South Korean official said, "The three countries had originally planned to finish the study shortly before next year’s summit. But they reached an agreement to move up the conclusion of the study to a date way earlier than the summit."

Early this month, the countries held a fourth joint study meeting on the feasibility of an FTA among the three Northeast Asian countries.

But it remains to be seen whether Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo will discuss the implementation of free trade talks smoothly, as South Korea’s bilateral talks with China and Japan to seal FTAs have stalled since its respective conclusions of joint FTA studies with each nation.

During talks with South Korea, held on the sidelines of Sunday’s trilateral talks, China requested South Korea declare the start of negotiations to seal a bilateral FTA. But the South Korean side declined to accept the request, due to sticking points in the farm sector and unspecified domestic issues, according to the officials.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in February that Seoul needs to consider a free trade agreement with Beijing in order to keep up with other nations that have been adjusting to trade conditions stemming from China’s rapid rise in the global economy.

Free trade talks between Seoul and Tokyo have been stalled since late 2004, mainly because of Japan’s reluctance to lower tariffs on agricultural goods.

The two countries started preliminary talks to resume the stalled negotiations in June 2008 and have since met four times, including the latest meeting in December 2009.

During Sunday’s talks, the three ministers also discussed a trilateral investment treaty but produced no tangible result as Beijing is reluctant to move the project forward.

The three nations have held trade ministers’ talks since 2002, one year after their leaders agreed to launch them in the previous year. Since last year, the talks have been held in one of the three countries that hosts a summit of the three nations. Japan is scheduled to host the trilateral summit next month.