Trade ministers to meet in Seoul

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Trade ministers to meet in Seoul

Trade ministers of Korea, Japan and China will meet in Seoul on Friday for the first time in three and a half years to discuss trade matters having ahead of a leaders summit.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Tuesday, Korean Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick will meet with Japanese trade minister Motoo Hayashi and Zhong Shan, a representative of the Chinese International Trade Negotiations and Vice Commerce Minister, in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on Friday.

Leaders of the three countries are expected to be meeting in Seoul on Sunday.

The three ministers will discuss ways to accelerate negotiations for a Korea-Japan-China trilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the China-led mega-FTA with ASEAN and six other Asian-Pacific countries.

Other topics to be discussed include how to promote investment and expand economic cooperation in energy policies and small and midsize company policies.

“We initially thought that the three-way FTA among Korea, Japan and China should have been reached first, and then be followed by the RCEP,” said Woo Tae-hee, deputy minister for trade, at a press briefing on Monday, “but talks for the trilateral FTA are slower than that for the mega-FTA.”

Negotiations for an FTA among Northeast Asia’s three biggest economies were first announced in 2012. The three countries held eight negotiating sessions through last month, but there has been not much progress.

A three-way FTA is expected to expand Korea’s gross domestic product by up to 1.45 percent within the first 10 years of the pact going into effect, according to an economic impact study done by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).

The KIEP report said Korea would see expanded exports to China and Japan, mostly thanks to lower non-trade barriers like technology and sanitary standards.

The three countries account for nearly 70 percent of the total Asian economy, and 20.5 percent of the world’s, according to KIEP.

They also account for nearly 20 percent of world’s total trade volume and foreign investments, the study showed.

Meanwhile leaders of the three countries - President Park Geun-hye, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - are expected to discuss creating a so-called Trilateral Cooperation Fund (TCF) during a meeting in Seoul on Sunday, a senior government official told told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Although the nature of the fund isn’t known, each country is likely to contribute a certain amount.

“Cooperation by the three countries in various fields is becoming more active in the private sector whether it’s academia or civic groups,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “The three countries have agreed that the time has come to provide financial support to back up the systemization of such cooperation. Once the finances are secured via a TCF, the existing cooperative projects will become stronger and the size and the number of people participating will increase.”

The official added that Korea was the first to propose the idea while China showed strong support, which helped speed up discussions. Once the final agreement is made, the TCF is expected to be included in a joint declaration by the three leaders.

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