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Trilateral FTA talks likely to be delayed

Korea Times, Seoul

Trilateral FTA talks likely to be delayed

By Chung Min-uck

9 May 2012

Although Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo are discussing beginning negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA), domestic procedures will make it difficult to start talks within this year.

“For us to start the negotiations, we need to first go through domestic procedures such as holding a public hearing and receiving acknowledgement from the government’s trade related ministries. There are technical difficulties in starting the talks within this year,” said Lee Si-hyung, deputy minister of trade, during a briefing, Wednesday. “The negotiations cannot start without the completion of these legal procedures.”

Earlier, Trade Minister Park Tae-ho said “the three nations will be able to begin negotiations for the trilateral trade pact within this year.” The chief negotiator also predicted the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan may announce it during an upcoming summit to be held in Beijing this weekend.

A high-ranking government official, however, declined to confirm whether they will agree on the start of talks for the trade pact.

Asking for anonymity, the official said the three sides are still working on a joint statement to be released after the summit. It has yet to be decided whether the trade accord will be included in it, he added.

The foreign ministry previously came under fire for a failed public hearing on a Korea-China FTA held in March when groups of workers from the agricultural, fishery and livestock industries, sectors which are expected to be most adversely affected by the deal, strongly opposed the pact.

The hearing was closed without any agreements being made.

Despite protests, the foreign ministry announced the start of the negotiations last week.

The first round of talks between Korea and China are scheduled to take place next Monday in Beijing.

Prospects of a trilateral deal may be hampered because of this.

According to a ministry official, Beijing considers a Korea-China deal as a precondition for a trilateral FTA and thus is unlikely to take a two-track approach.

The official added that the Chinese government doesn’t have enough representatives to negotiate the two pacts simultaneously.

Reportedly, Tokyo also wants to start talks on bilateral agreements first.

The multilateral trade pact involving the three neighboring countries started to make headlines last year after the release of an academic report highlighting its positive aspects.

However, the three nations have different viewpoints on which level to open their markets. China insists on a partial opening while Japan is pushing for full interaction including the finance and services sectors. Korea, meanwhile, is sensitive to importing agricultural products.

Meanwhile, trade ministers of Korea, China and Japan will hold talks in Beijing, Saturday, to finalize the signing of an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and further discuss the trilateral FTA before handing the proposals to their leaders the next day.