Korea Times | 11-24-2004 16:03
Seoul to Start FTA Talks With ASEAN in 2005
By Ryu Jin
South Korea will start negotiations next year for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Seoul’s top diplomat said Wednesday.
"We will declare the plan during the ASEAN+3 summit in Laos next week," Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon said in his weekly press briefing. "South Korea, though a tardy student in the field of FTAs, will do its utmost (to catch up with the global trade trend).’’
At its annual summit on Nov. 29-30, ASEAN will sign a deal with China that will ultimately create the world’s largest free trade area. The deal makes it easier for all 10 ASEAN nations to export goods to China, and to import Chinese products.
Some ASEAN businesses are concerned they will be overpowered by China’s giant, low-cost manufacturers, but many economists see the deal as good for Southeast Asia, and a harbinger of things to come.
South Korea ratified an FTA with Chile in April this year, the first of its kind for the world’s 11th largest economy. Korea is currently in negotiation with Singapore and Japan for such trade pacts.
"I’m confident of the conclusion of the South Korea-Singapore FTA within the year," Ban said.
Asked about the possibility of North Korea being invited as observer to next year’s APEC forum to be hosted by South Korea, Ban said it seemed ``impossible’’ though his ministry had not yet considered such suggestions.
"But I think, it is worth discussing the idea to allow North Korea to take part in working-level committees of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum," he said.
Touching on the stalled talks on North Korea’s nuclear problems, Minister Ban reiterated that the North "should not lose this good opportunity."
"Now the North should return to the negotiation table to make a strategic decision," he said. "It is not desirable for North Korea to attach conditions to the resumption of the six-party talks."
North Korea and the United States, along with South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, have so far met three times in the multilateral talks since the nuclear issue emerged in October 2002. The six-party process, however, has been stalled without a major breakthrough since June, with Pyongyang apparently employing a time-buying tactic before the U.S. presidential race on Nov. 2.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday called for a more sincere attitude from North Korea in the upcoming negotiations, saying the U.S. pledged to give a security guarantee if it abandons its nuclear ambitions.
Roh and U.S. President George W. Bush agreed in a summit in Chile last weekend to continue diplomatic efforts to bring a peaceful end to the North Korean nuclear crisis within the framework of the six-party talks.
On his way back home, Roh said Bush "had clearly stated that the international community will embrace North Korea and the North will get the security guarantee" once it gives up its nuclear weapons programs.