Korea-China FTA talks end with little progress

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Korea-China FTA talks end with little progress


Korea and China yesterday ended their free trade pact negotiating session after making almost no progress, leaving little hope that the two presidents will realize their goal of completing the deal before the end of this year.

After five days of talks in Beijing, the two countries failed once again to close gaps in the agreement.

The discord revolves around which products the two countries can list as “supersensitive,” a status that would exempt those items from the rules of free trade. Supersensitive goods are threatened by similar products from each partner country.

In previous discussions, Korea has insisted that its agricultural products be considered supersensitive to protect local food against cheap Chinese imports, while China wants to guard its petrochemical and heavy industry products from Korean-made versions.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in July, he and President Park Geun-hye agreed that they wanted to settle the free trade agreement (FTA) this year because negotiations have been stalled since 2012. But ongoing tension has made that nearly impossible.

“China and [Korea] agreed that we should accelerate progress after the two presidents’ remarks at the July summit,” said Woo Tae-hee, Korea’s assistant minister for trade and the chief FTA negotiator, at a briefing yesterday. “But frankly, I can’t tell whether we can reach an agreement by the end of this year, because accelerating negotiations means we would each have to make concessions.

“Again, we promise we’ll do our best, but I want to focus on protecting our market, rather than making the deadline,” Woo added.

When asked if there would be another negotiation session before the year is over, Woo said he thinks there will be some form of talks before November.

Analysts said that it is unlikely that Korea and China will seal the trade pact by the end of the year.

In a column for the Korea Economics Research Institute in July, Cheong In-kyo, an economics professor at Inha University, advised the government to return to thinking about the fundamental purpose of entering an FTA.

Most FTA deals are completed within 10 negotiation sessions, but Korea and China have met 13 times now. The deal regressed last year after Korea selected almost a thousand agricultural items as supersensitive products. The exhaustive list sent the message that the government wants to ban almost all Chinese produce.

Cheong also pointed out that some agricultural products currently deemed supersensitive are not. For example, without the FTA, Korea imports about $40 million worth of Chinese-grown oriental medicinal herbs, but has also put them on the list.

However, the two countries did make some progress.

Korea succeeded in persuading China to meet sanitary standards and comply with international technology and intellectual property laws.

The two countries also created a chapter of rules on financial and telecommunication industries that will protect Korean companies in China.


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

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