• Kyodo

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Japan, China and South Korea on Thursday began a joint study involving industry, government and academia on possibly forging a free-trade agreement.

During the first meeting in Seoul, which ends Friday, participants are expected to exchange views on trade relations as well as policies to promote an FTA.

It is the first step toward commencing government-level negotiations.

While prospects remain uncertain, a trilateral FTA would contribute to the integration of major Asian economies and mark progress toward realizing an East Asian community, a concept promoted by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The move comes amid the continued suspension of talks between Japan and South Korea on a bilateral FTA. Some in Seoul say South Korea should place priority on concluding a trilateral FTA rather than on resuming the bilateral negotiations with Tokyo.

In Thursday’s meeting, Japan was represented by Yoichi Otabe, deputy foreign minister responsible for economic affairs, and Hiroyuki Ishige, vice minister for international affairs of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Yi Xiaozhun and Lee Hye Min, chief FTA negotiator of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also attended.

The three countries agreed in October to start the joint FTA study in the first half of this year.

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