Japan, S. Korea, China to mull FTA

HUA HIN, Thailand (Kyodo) Japan, China and South Korea agreed Sunday to begin joint research by academic, government and private-sector representatives on the possibility of forging a trilateral free-trade agreement.

The accord was struck by the economic and trade ministers of the three countries in a meeting on the sidelines of the series of summits involving the three countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

A tripartite working-level meeting will study ways on how to proceed with the joint research early next year.

The agreement marks a step forward in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s initiative to promote regional cooperation through an “East Asia community.” In line with the concept, Hatoyama has said Japan should cooperate with China and South Korea as much as possible.

So far, only private-sector experts have been considering the possibility of the three countries forging a three-way FTA.

“Both China and South Korea want to launch working-level talks as soon as possible,” Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Masayuki Naoshima told reporters.

The three ministers also agreed to effectively conclude an investment pact at an early date next year.

On Saturday, Japan and five Mekong region countries agreed to beef up economic and industrial cooperation.