China OK, South not at seeing FTA talks by yearend

Kyodo

Japan, China and South Korea are making final arrangements to have their leaders agree this weekend to work toward the launch of official negotiations on a trilateral free-trade accord by the end of this year.

Senior officials from Japan and China are currently trying to persuade their counterparts from South Korea to at least agree to state the yearend target in a joint statement to be released by the leaders after their meeting Sunday, a senior official in Tokyo said Monday on condition of anonymity.

It is almost certain that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak will not be able to agree on the immediate launch of FTA talks when they meet in Beijing, due to Seoul’s reluctance to do so, the official said.

The yearend target will serve as a compromise between the three countries, which had initially explored the possibility of agreeing to enter talks for a three-way FTA during the annual meeting.

But the official said, despite the planned expression in the statement, “We believe that in reality South Korea has no intention to start the negotiations later this year.