China FTA talk planned

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China FTA talk planned

China is hoping to speed up free trade negotiations with Korea, and the two countries decided yesterday to hold a ministerial-level FTA negotiating session on Thursday before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit begins on Nov. 10 in Beijing.

Korea has taken a conservative approach toward the talks because opening the agricultural market to China is expected to have a huge impact on the local economy. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul in July, he and President Park Geun-hye said that they would aim to finalize the FTA by the end of the year, an intention she repeated in a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month.

Korean Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick and his Chinese counterpart Gao Hucheng will meet to discuss the FTA on Thursday after a preliminary meeting among working level officials today and tomorrow.

The meeting is unusual because FTA negotiations are generally done by chief negotiators, who focus solely on economic impacts, rather than by the top ministers of the negotiating countries, who also consider political impacts.

“Both countries agreed on the need for a ministerial meeting because a governmental-level decision is what we need at this point,” said Woo Tae-hee, Korea’s assistant minister for trade and chief FTA negotiator, at a press briefing yesterday.

The two countries’ meetings this year have ended with little progress, mainly due to disagreements over which items can keep their tariffs. Korea has insisted on protecting its agricultural products and China wants to keep taxes on its petrochemical and heavy industry products.

As neither country has showed signs of lowering demands over sensitive items, the two have made little progress on the agreement since the talks started in May 2012. In addition to the supersensitive product list, Korea and China have yet to agree on five other areas: rules on products’ place of origin, service and finance industries, human exchange, and economic cooperation.

Still, chief negotiator Woo was hopeful that the meeting on Thursday could lead to a breakthrough, since the two trade ministers can continue to discuss their views in other APEC ministerial meetings, which begin Monday.

While China has expressed its desire to seal the deal at the APEC meeting, Korea has not been rushing.

“If this session produces progress, completing the deal by the year’s end will be more than possible,” Woo said. “However, we will not give up any of our needs just to complete the FTA early.”

“We won’t just open our agricultural market without preparing a protection mechanism for local farmers, even if China opens its supersensitive manufacturing market,” the negotiator added.

BY Kim Ji-yoon []

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