First talks end on East Asian FTA deal

Kyodo

Senior officials from Japan, China and South Korea on Thursday ended their first round of talks on reaching a free-trade agreement, according to South Korea’s chief delegate.

“We discussed the scope of negotiations . . . and administrative details like the timetable of negotiations,” said Choi Kyung Lim, South Korea’s assistant deputy minister of trade.

Choi said two more rounds will be held this year, with the next round set to be held in China and another in Japan.

Choi expressed hope that an FTA linking the three will create a bridge over their political and cultural differences while also providing economic benefits.

“South Korea, China and Japan are in conflict historically and politically. By having a common rule in the economic field and expanding economic exchanges, a bridge could be built to establish a consensus in political and cultural areas,” Choi said.

As for the necessity of the three-way FTA, Choi said the three countries’ economies “occupy a major place in the global economy and an FTA would help the three countries’ economies expand further in the future.”

The three-day talks started Tuesday in the hope of driving their economies further forward toward accounting for around 20 percent of global gross domestic product, despite conflicts over thorny political issues.

Joining Choi in the talks were his counterparts from Japan and China: Koji Tsuruoka, deputy foreign minister in charge of economic affairs, and Yu Jianhua, assistant commerce minister.

The initiative to boost economic ties comes amid territorial rifts involving Japan, China and Taiwan over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu and Taiwan calls Tiaoyutai, and between Japan and South Korea over South Korean-controlled islets called Takeshima by Tokyo and Dokdo by Seoul.

The outlook for the FTA, however, remains uncertain, especially in controversial sectors such as agricultural goods. China enjoys a dominant position in agriculture, livestock and fisheries, whereas South Korea and Japan tend to be protective of their local markets.

South Korea, on the other hand, expects to make substantial gains in petrochemicals, machinery, automobiles, electronics and steelmaking.

The trilateral negotiations began just a day after Japan agreed with the European Union to launch FTA talks in April. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also announced earlier this month that Japan will seek to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations, despite persistent opposition from the farm and some other industries.

China is seeking to strike an FTA with Japan and South Korea at an early date because it is increasingly concerned about the United States playing a pivotal role in the TPP, a new free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region that might exclude Beijing, some government officials said.

Trade ministers from the three Asian countries formally declared the launch of the trilateral FTA talks in November.

In 2010, the combined GDP of the three countries reached $12.34 trillion, with their trade volume amounting to $5.32 trillion and their combined populations totaling 1.52 billion.