AFP | Wednesday, January 31, 2007
S Korea mulls free trade deal with Gulf states
SEOUL — South Korea is actively considering forging a free trade agreement with six Gulf nations, its top economic official said Wednesday.
“South Korea is actively reviewing an idea of pursuing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Finance and Economy Minister Kwon O-Kyu told a Qatar economic forum being held in Seoul.
The council groups Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
South Korea has already signed FTAs with Chile and Singapore. Free trade talks are well under way with the United States and Seoul will open talks with the European Union in March.
A joint study with China on the feasibility of such a pact will also be launched. Kwon said South Korea and Qatar should expand their cooperation from energy and resources into finance and other fields.
“With their oil money, the Middle Eastern nations have turned their eyes from the US and Europe to Asia’s emerging markets for investment, and Korea has become one of their good targets,” he said, calling for active investment by Korean firms in Qatari economic projects.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani said his country would spend more than 130 billion dollars in the next five years on increasing oil and gas production and on manufacturing and services.
He said his country plans to become a major exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe and North America, and urged South Korean firms to take part in the drive.
South Korea imports 6.74 million tonnes of LNG, or 27 percent of its annual supply, from Qatar.
South Korean Commerce and Industry Minister Kim Young-Joo and his Qatari counterpart Yousef Hussain Kamal agreed Wednesday to strengthen and expand cooperation in industrial and energy sectors.
Kamal told reporters Qatar was interested in investing up to four billion dollars in South Korea. He called for Korean participation in building Qatar’s free trade zone.
On Monday the two countries reached a preliminary agreement to avoid double taxation. Two-way trade stood at 6.7 billion dollars last year.