In a further step toward the conclusion next year of a bilateral investment pact, Japan and South Korea agreed in Tokyo on Thursday to expedite joint efforts to improve investment between the two countries. The agreement was made at the second round of talks of the bilateral government and private-sector joint council to promote investment. The meeting was cochaired by Takashi Fukaya, international trade and industry minister, and Chung Duck Koo, South Korean minister for commerce, industry and energy. Thirty-three top government officials and business leaders from both nations attended the session, which followed the launch of the dialogue a year ago in Seoul. At Thursday’s meeting, both sides acknowledged a significant improvement in South Korea’s investment environment, which helped double Japanese investment from $510 million in 1998 to $1.07 billion during the January-October term. Seoul also conveyed to Tokyo the measures it has taken to meet some of the demands from Japanese business circles to improve foreign direct investment in South Korea. The measures, which encompass 19 of the 42 requests made by the Japanese, include transparency in Seoul’s administrative proceedings and a consumption tax on valuable imports such as audio and visual equipment. Some problems, such as prickly labor-management relations, however, are still pending. The two sides also agreed to cooperate in improving the image of South Korean small and midsize venture companies. Speaking at a joint news conference following the meeting, Fukaya said that now is the time for the two nations to become “equal partners,” saying South Korea has overcome its economic crisis and Japan is showing signs of recovery. “Looking back on the course of our post-war relations, we have never shared closer feelings for each other,” he added. Chung said that although his country has been on unilaterally dependent terms with Japan, now is the most suitable time for the two to seek horizontal relationships as they have become competitive with each other. The two sides also agreed to accelerate their cooperation to attract Japanese companies dealing in industrial materials and parts to South Korea through Seoul’s development of industrial estates, mutual exchanges of information and private missions, and joint research.

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