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A bilateral study group said Thursday that Japan and South Korea should launch full-scale negotiations over a free-trade agreement, according to Japanese officials.

The study group comprises individuals from the academic, business and governmental sectors.

A report drawn up by the group suggests that Japan and South Korea should launch governmental negotiations at an early date with an eye to concluding a comprehensive FTA within a “reasonable time framework.”

Tokyo and Seoul are expected to finalize the start of governmental negotiations in a meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Bangkok on Oct. 20-21, the officials said.

The two nations will probably launch negotiations in the early part of 2004, they said.

If Japan and South Korea do start formal negotiations, the move would likely provide momentum for Tokyo’s drive to forge more FTAs with other nations.

The study group has been discussing the issue since July 2002, following an agreement between Koizumi and then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in March the same year.

The report states that an FTA would benefit both Japan and South Korea and become a partnership symbol.

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