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Seoul blamed for stalled FTA talks with Tokyo: Japan envoy

Korea Times

Seoul Blamed for Stalled FTA Talks With Tokyo: Japan Envoy

20 June 2006

SEOUL (Yonhap) Negotiations on a free trade pact between South Korea and Japan remain in a stalemate because Seoul is demanding too many concessions in the agricultural sector from Tokyo, a top Japanese envoy said Tuesday.

One and a half years ago, when both countries had talks on a free trade pact, the process came to a halt, as Seoul insisted that concessions from Tokyo in the agricultural sector were not enough,'' Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Shotaro Oshima said in a lecture organized by the Institute for Global Economics.Seoul needs to come to the negotiating table right away and not demand too much for such a sensitive area from the start,’’ Oshima added.

The two countries began free trade talks in December 2003, but negotiations have been stalled since November 2004, when they failed to agree on the opening of Japan’s agricultural market. South Korea has accused Japan of being unwilling to open the market wide enough.

Citing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Mexico in which he said Japan made compromises through negotiation by opening such sensitive areas as orange juice and pork, Oshima urged the resumption of talks with South Korea, saying, ``We are willing to make concessions at some point in the negotiations.’’

Through an FTA with Seoul it would be possible, he said, to create a new economic bloc encompassing the two Asian economic powers and the United States, with which Japan has an economic partnership agreement, a broader free trade deal.

However, the Japanese ambassador noted it would be a tough task to nurture a political community equivalent to the European Union in the Asian region, mainly due to differences in political stances and the economic conditions of each country.

South Korea and the United States are in the process of FTA negotiations. Two weeks ago, they concluded the first round of talks in Washington and plan to start the second round in Seoul next month.