• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun agreed Monday to launch full negotiations this year on a bilateral free-trade agreement.

Koizumi and Roh, who met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Bangkok, issued a joint statement saying they share the view that a bilateral FTA would be beneficial to both countries. They said they hope to conclude the talks by 2005.

In the document, the two leaders also confirm their intention to continue efforts to sign and put into effect at an early time a social security pact to prevent double payment of pension premiums by expatriates.

Japan and South Korea have reached a basic agreement on the contents of the accord, which is meant to promote economic activities between the two neighbors.

Koizumi and Roh also agreed to work toward establishing direct flights between Haneda airport in Tokyo and Kimpo airport in Seoul, visa-free trips to Japan by South Koreans and a bilateral pact on mutual customs assistance.

Regarding the FTA and social security pact, Koizumi told Roh in a brief meeting at a Bangkok hotel that such “mutually beneficial economic fruition will serve as a big step toward building closer ties between Japan and South Korea,” according to the officials.

In their announcement, the two leaders said they recognize that an FTA would expand bilateral trade and investment.

They also said it would boost cooperation, thereby taking bilateral ties to a higher level.

They agreed that a bilateral FTA should encompass comprehensive and substantial trade liberalization arrangements, as well as conform to the rules of the World Trade Organization.

A joint study group of academic, business and government representatives issued a report Oct. 2 calling on the two governments to launch talks at an early date with an eye to concluding a comprehensive FTA within a “reasonable time framework.”

The report says an FTA would benefit both countries and become a partnership symbol because it will lead to expansion of the gross domestic product of both nations through promotion of investment and technical cooperation.

Japan has only one free-trade agreement, with Singapore, signed in January 2002.

It is in formal negotiations with Mexico and preliminary talks with some other countries, including Thailand.

Japan and Mexico failed to forge a breakthrough to conclude FTA talks last week in Tokyo due to differences over the Japan’s politically sensitive farm sector.

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