S. Korea to prioritize FTA with China
By Kim Young-gyo
HONG KONG, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) — South Korea will prioritize the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) with China over a possible trilateral free trade deal that further encompasses Japan, Seoul’s top envoy to Beijing has said.
"We would like to accelerate bilateral free trade talks with China, and then enter into negotiation of a trilateral free trade agreement among South Korea, China and Japan," Lee Kyu-hyung, the South Korean ambassador to China, said in a recent meeting with Chinese media outlets, according to local news reports on Friday.
Lee expected South Korea and China will be able to speed up in their FTA talks when South Korea’s presidential election is over. The election is slated for Dec. 19.
In May this year, the two neighboring countries announced the launch of formal free trade negotiations, expecting the talks to take two years.
China is the largest buyer of South Korean-made goods and has contributed to Seoul’s sizable trade surplus in recent years, while South Korea is China’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and Japan.
Bilateral trade reached US$188.4 billion last year. Both countries are expecting the volume to top $300 billion in 2015.
Meanwhile, South Korea, China and Japan declared last month the start of free trade talks aimed at boosting their trade despite territorial tension in the Northeast Asian region. They said they will kick off negotiations over the three-way free trade deal next year.
The ambitious three-way pact, if realized, would create one of the world’s largest markets, as the three nations account for 20 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), 17.5 percent of all global trade, and 22 percent of the global population.
The three nations’ push for their free trade agreement came as the region is still mired in territorial disputes and unsettled historical legacies.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have sunk to a record low as Tokyo renewed its claims to South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented visit to the East Sea islets in August.
Japan has experienced a similar row with China over a group of East China Sea islets.
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.
South Korea already has concluded FTAs with 45 partners, including the United States, the European Union and the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations.