Korea makes up its mind on TPP

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Korea makes up its mind on TPP

Korea is now seeing the positive side of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the foreign minister said at a parliamentary hearing yesterday, after a previous wariness about joining.

He said joining the trade agreement was only a matter of time.

“There is an aspect [of the TPP] that will be beneficial to our national interests,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se in reference to the world’s largest free trade negotiation among 12 countries. South Korea would be the 13th.

Korea was previously wary of the agreement, fervently promoted by the U.S. and Japan, because it excludes China and is viewed as a means of containing China’s growing power.

The TPP will include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Japan, the United States and Vietnam, countries that account for about a third of the world’s trade, not including Korea.

Yun spoke in front of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. “There is considerable consensus,” he said, “within and outside the government” about Korea joining the TPP. He said the government is analyzing from various perspectives “when and what time frame is appropriate to review the TPP.”

On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Hyun Oh-seok said at a briefing on the sidelines of a World Bank annual meeting in Washington that Korea is “in the process of reviewing the right time to participate in the TPP.” Hyun is also Korea’s finance minister.

Korea has remained quietly on the fence over two multinational trade agreements: The U.S.-supported TPP and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an initiative to link the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations with the six countries the group has free trade agreements with. China pushed for the RCEP talks to conclude by 2015 at a summit in Brunei last week. They began in 2012.

President Park Geun-hye refrained from mentioning the TPP on her recent trip to the APEC summit in Bali.

In regard to China opposing Korea’s participation, Yun said yesterday, “The TPP and RCEP are not in competition with each other but can supplement each other.” He also said there has been a “decrease in opposition” from China regarding the trade agreement.

An annual “inspection” of government ministries and agencies kicked off yesterday where some 630 offices and institutions will be probed by the National Assembly over 20 days.

At the inspection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Assembly also looked into Japan’s so-called collective self-defense stance, a strengthening of the Japanese military and its ability to wage war on behalf of allies.

Korea is nervous about the prospect of Japan’s military being strengthened. “Japan has requested rights to a collective self-defense system,” Yun said, but Korea continues to hold trepidations “because of its historical issues.”

Japan moved to revise its defense cooperation guidelines recently in a meeting between foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the U.S. by the end of next year.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG WON-YEOB [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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