Yonhap via Asia Pulse
S. KOREA SET TO RE-OPEN FTA TALKS WITH JAPAN
Monday February 6, 2006
TOKYO, Feb. 6 Asia Pulse - South Korea is willing to resume talks with Japan on a free trade agreement (FTA) if the latter promises to open its agricultural market wider, Seoul’s top economic policymaker said Saturday.
"South Korea will immediately restart talks if Japan exempts 90 percent of South Korean farm exports from tariffs," South Korean Minister of Finance and Economy Han Duck-soo said in an interview with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
The two countries began free trade talks in December 2003, but the negotiations have been stalled since November 2004 when they failed to reach agreement over Japan’s agricultural market opening.
South Korea has criticized Japan for being unwilling to open its agricultural market wide enough.
The minister, currently visiting here for a meeting with his Japanese counterpart later in the day, said the FTA issue is independent of bilateral political issues.
"The suspension of the bilateral FTA talks is not related to political, diplomatic or historical issues," Han said.
South Korea has slammed visits by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a shrine for war dead, Tokyo’s claim to a set of South Korean islets in the East Sea and its whitewashing of wartime atrocities.
The finance minister said if Japan sets its position, South Korea may simultaneously hold talks with Japan and the United States.
"The agreement between South Korea and the United States to start FTA talks is part of Seoul’s efforts to help the Korean economy deal with economic globalization," he said.
On Thursday, South Korea and the U.S. jointly announced in Washington that they will launch negotiations for an FTA with the aim of concluding a deal in the first half of next year.
Formal negotiations will begin in May, because the U.S. government is required to have three months of prior consultations with Congress before starting such talks.
The two sides are expected to meet at least once every two months and hold five to six rounds of talks before reaching a final agreement.
Han, meanwhile, said he thinks former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung will be able to make a visit to North Korea in April.
"North Korea’s proposal that Kim visit Pyongyang remains valid," Han said. "His visit to the North will be positive to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the government is pinning hopes on his visit."
In an interview with a South Korean daily Wednesday, Kim said he wants to meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to help ease cross-border tension and the dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons programs.
If realized, it would be Kim’s second visit to Pyongyang following his 2000 visit for the first-ever inter-Korean summit with the North Korean leader.