Korea-China FTA makes big progress

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Korea-China FTA makes big progress

After 10 negotiating sessions since 2012, Korea and China have made some tangible progress on a free trade pact.

At a five-day negotiation last week in Meishan, Sichuan Province, China, the two countries agreed to open up the online commerce sector and a series of regulations on competition, according to Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. That raised the possibility of the completion of the free trade agreement as early as the end of the year.

It was first negotiating session since President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to accelerate negotiations at a summit in The Hague, the Netherlands, at the end of March. Xi is scheduled to have another summit with Park in Seoul at the end of this month.

After the March summit, the two countries were able to exchange lists of products and service areas for removal of tariff barriers over certain periods of time.

Woo Tae-hee, assistant minister for trade and chief FTA negotiator, held a press conference yesterday at the Sejong Government Complex to report the progress since March and explain the possibility of settling the agreement by the year’s end.

“It is our hope to reach final agreement by the year’s end,” Woo said. “After the March summit, China started to show a more active attitude regarding negotiations in many aspects.”

However, he said Korea has no specific deadline for settling the FTA.

The previous negotiation in mid-March, before The Hague summit, made almost no progress due to conflicts over the so-called supersensitive products, which each country wanted to protect. Korea has long claimed that agriculture and fishery products should be on the list of supersensitive products, while China picked petrochemicals, steel and machinery products.

In those areas, Woo said the two countries succeeded in reducing some opinion gaps. He added that “the two sides were still in a strained standoff” on the tariff reduction levels for those sensitive products.

Woo said he could not name specific items on which China is requesting Korea to eliminate tariffs.

When it comes to services and investment areas, the two countries succeeded in exchanging a list of requests for the first time after 10 negotiations about how far each country will go to liberalize the areas.

Woo said the most noteworthy advance was made around FTA regulations. The two countries “almost finalized” the regulation parts of the FTA.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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