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South Korea-China FTA negotiations on the horizon

The Hankyoreh, Seoul

South Korea-China FTA negotiations on the horizon

Wheels beginning to turn toward talks that could start in March or April

By Kim Kyung-rok 

9 February 2012


Official procedures are under way toward negotiations for a free trade agreement between South Korea and China. Bilateral talks are expected to start some time around April or May.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade plans to hold a hearing on Feb. 24 at the Coex Convention Center in the Samseong neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district. The regulations do not stipulate a set number of hearings and the ministry has decided to hold only the one hearing on the South Korea-China FTA.

The post-hearing procedure includes a review by a private FTA advisory council and an FTA promotion committee with the Minister for Trade as chairman and vice minister-level representatives from the different ministries, as well as voting by a committee of external economy ministers.

Go Gyeong-seok, head of the MOFAT’s FTA policy planning division, explained that even though the Trade Procedure Act that went into effect in January has a six-month transition period, the South Korea-China FTA would be pursued in accordance with it. The act was created after criticisms that previous agreements like the South Korea-US FTA were signed amid a lack of external oversight from the National Assembly and a failure to consider outside opinions. Once negotiations have begun, the government is to report to the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee on important matters in connection with them.

Observers said the negotiations are likely to begin before May. Coordinator Lee Si-hyeong said, “If everything goes smoothly with the domestic procedures, we could even begin as early as March.”

Seoul and Beijing have already reached a basic consensus on finishing discussions on sensitive areas such as farming products after negotiations begin, before moving on to negotiations in other areas. Last month, the MOFAT began taking steps to gather opinions domestically, holding expert seminars, discussions with various industries, and talks with the heads of farming and fishing groups.