Three-way talks on an FTA begin

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Three-way talks on an FTA begin

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Korean chief negotiator Choi Kyong-lim, center, his Japanese counterpart Koji Tsuruoka, right, and Chinese counterpart Yu Jianhua, left, shake hands with each other at a photo session before their talks in Seoul yesterday. Senior officials of three countries met for the first round of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) yesterday, which continue through March 28. [AP/NEWSIS]

The inaugural talks for a free trade agreement between Korea, Japan and China kicked off yesterday in Seoul after a decade of kicking the idea around.

Should the trilateral pact succeed, it would create the third-largest economic bloc in the world after the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and the European Union, with a combined GDP that would total over $14.3 trillion.

In comparison, Nafta, has a combined GDP of some $18 trillion and the EU $17.5 trillion.

The first round of negotiations commenced yesterday at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Gangnam District, southern Seoul and runs until tomorrow.

Choi Kyung-lim, deputy trade minister of Korea, headed the Seoul delegation, which was comprised of representatives from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Strategy and Finance, Trade, Industry and Energy and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Chinese delegation was headed by Yu Jianhua, Chinese assistant commerce minister, and Japan’s was led by Koji Tsuruoka, director general of global issues of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy estimates that the three countries together account for 21.5 percent of the total world population, 20.5 percent of global GDP and 17.5 percent of all global trade.

Korea, China and Japan have a combined population of over 1.52 billion people, far more than NAFTA’s 444 million and the EU’s over 500 million.

In 2003, trilateral joint research on economic cooperation showed that the three countries will mutually benefit from an FTA. Further studies were conducted over the following decade.

“The free trade agreement is beneficial for all participating countries,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Cho Tai-young. “The government, for the sake of progress and security, will try its best to resolve any roadblocks along the way.”

But not everyone welcomed the idea of such a trilateral pact and 15 agricultural organizations including the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation rallied against it in front of the hotel yesterday.

“Our national research and development institutes estimate that the signing of just a Korea-China FTA will lead to a 14.7 percent decrease in agricultural production and twice as much damage to the agriculture sector than the Korea-U.S. FTA,” the agriculture groups said.

“The free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union has created difficulties in the agricultural industry, and farmers are greatly opposed to negotiations for a Korea-China-Japan FTA, which further endangers our agricultural sector,” they continued

The civic organizations threatened larger-scale campaigns against the government if negotiations for the trilateral trade pact proceeds.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to start negotiations for a Japan-EU free trade pact Monday. Tokyo declared earlier this month it will join talks on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging free-trade negotiation among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.



By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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