Gov’t gives a formal nod to U.S.-led trade pact

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Gov’t gives a formal nod to U.S.-led trade pact

Korea finally made it official that it is highly interested in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led multilateral trade pact.

In the eyes of some analysts, Korea should have made up its mind a lot sooner.

On Friday, the Korean government held a meeting of economy-related ministers where it expressed “interest” in participating in the TPP. An expression of interest is the diplomatic step before initiating a preliminary meeting with existing members to discuss specific terms.

The United States immediately welcomed Korea’s move.

“Korea plays an important role in the regional economy, and its interest in the TPP demonstrates the significant importance of this initiative to the region,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement posted on the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s website.

Korea had been on the fence for a long time about the 12-member pact because of both potential political ramifications and economic considerations. China is wary of the TPP, which is dominated by the United States and its allies including Japan.

China is instead pushing a so-called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in East Asia.

Some criticized the government for taking too long to make up its mind, saying the delay will make it difficult for Korea to get favorable terms when it joins the pact. The TPP was hardly noticed when it was first conceived of as a small-sized agreement involving New Zealand and Singapore. Things changed after the United States got on board in 2008, and Japan declared its participation in March.

With 12 members now (not including Korea), the TPP covers around 792 million people and 38 percent of global gross domestic product, or $27.5 trillion, according to U.S. Congressional Research Service. The members are the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

For Korea to join the TPP, it will have to declare its participation. It then has to wait for the existing members to endorse it. The 12 countries are known to be in the final stage of finalizing the comprehensive deal among them and Korea can’t join the TPP until they do it.

After the ministers’ meeting on Friday, Minister of Strategy and Finance Hyun Oh-seok refuted criticism of Korea dragging its heels on the issue.

“We were watching the progress [of the TPP deal] before deciding which one we will join first, between the TPP and RCEP,” Hyun said.

TPP and RCEP are not mutually exclusive. Japan and Australia are participating in the RCEP talks, which include the 10-member Asean bloc and its six free trade partners - Korea, China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.


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