SEOUL – Japan and South Korea kicked off on Tuesday the first meeting of a joint study group to discuss the feasibility of concluding a free-trade agreement.
The two-day meeting will focus on setting schedules and deciding on how to proceed with discussions in the future, according to Japanese and South Korean officials.
Comprising 10 Japanese and 14 South Korean government, business and academic representatives, the panel aims to discuss economic effects on the two nations from the envisioned FTA and various specific issues in the industrial and farm areas, the officials said.
Tokyo and Seoul established the study panel under an agreement in March between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President Kim Dae Jung, upgrading their earlier effort limited to “considering” the feasibility of an FTA.
The FTA would create a mammoth single market of $5 trillion in terms of combined gross domestic product with a population of 170 million.
It is expected such a pact move would accelerate economic integration in East Asia, including with China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
But Tokyo and Seoul need to clear high hurdles, including lingering concerns over an influx of cheap South Korean fisheries products. Japanese electronics and other industrial products, given that tariffs would be abolished to pave the way for free trade, are also sensitive areas.
South Korean political pundits said Kim’s fading power is expected to prevent the two nations from concluding the FTA before his term ends in February.
Japan is expected to press for a wide-ranging economic pact in line with its first FTA, signed in January with Singapore, which involves trade liberalization in goods and services, an investment pact and cooperation in information technology and other policy areas.
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