Amid U.S. shifts, Korea turns focus to Asean ties

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Amid U.S. shifts, Korea turns focus to Asean ties

As the global trade situation continues to be murky due to changes made by the new U.S. administration and the protectionist movement that is growing abroad, the Korean government now is seeking to expand its economic ties with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Joo Hyung-hwan, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, visited Singapore and the Philippines over the weekend and said officials from the three countries have agreed to expedite negotiations on expanding the Korea-Asean free trade agreement that went into effect in 2006 by adding more products to the duty-free lists, while raising the trade volume that can benefit from the agreement. Specific details of the negotiations have not been announced.

“Korea’s trade volume with Asean has doubled from 2006 to 2016 but has recently been declining and we hope the ongoing negotiations on expanding the agreement to be expedited,” Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan told Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, the Korean government said in a press release on Tuesday. “The global trade situation is becoming more uncertain due to the rising protectionist ideas overseas and the United States’ decision to withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership and we believe we need to maximize benefits from the mega free trade agreement deal in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The trade volume between Korea and Asean rose from $6.2 billion in 2006 to $11.9 billion in 2016. However, the figure has been slowing and it dropped from $13.1 billion in 2012 to $11.9 billion.

“We have been discussing ways to expand the free trade agreement but some member states in the Asean are not that comfortable with opening up their markets as they believe it will only hurt them, while benefiting only a few countries that have a large number of export products,” said an official at the Trade Ministry.

The Korean government said it has a high possibility of winning a $20 million construction deal for a solar energy power plant in Philippines and is discussing a $1.8 billion coal power plant project as well.

With Singaporean government officials, Joo explained the Korea’s technology on constructing high speed railway and showed interests to its $15 billion worth railway construction project. The official bidding for the project is expected to open this year.

Joo also met with Korean business leaders operating in Singapore and the Philippines and urged them to continue to focus on diversifying export products.

Joo emphasized that the population of the 10 Asean member nations is 630 million and its economy has been growing at 4 percent to 5 percent level annually. Its GDP is nearly $2.5 trillion and it is the seventh biggest economy in the world. “Asean is the bright market for us since Korea’s export is too much dependent on China [25 percent] and the United States [13 percent],” an official at the Trade Ministry added.

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