SEOUL – Japan, China and South Korea will begin domestic procedures next month to launch trilateral free-trade talks in November, even as diplomatic tensions over territorial disputes cast doubt on the initiative, Yonhap news agency reported Friday.
According to Yonhap, South Korea’s trade ministry said the three countries agreed at a two-day working-level meeting in Seoul this week to begin all necessary procedures, such as public hearings.
“Although the three nations are scheduled to announce the launch of trilateral free-trade talks in November, (doing so) is a high-level political step,” Choi Kyung Lim, South Korea’s deputy trade minister, was quoted as telling reporters.
Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul hope to announce the start of the talks in mid-November, when their leaders are slated to meet at an East Asia Summit in Cambodia.
South Korea and China have previously discussed a bilateral free-trade pact, but the talks stalled in 2004.
Yonhap said there are growing concerns that sovereignty clashes over the Japan-controlled Senkaku islets, which are claimed by China, and the South Korean-held Takeshima Islands, claimed by Japan, may delay the launch of talks.
The news agency cited South Korean trade ministry data that show the combined gross domestic product of the three nations reached $12.34 trillion in 2010 and accounted for 19.6 percent of the world’s total economic output, compared with the EU’s 30 percent and the United States’ 23 percent. Trilateral trade volume, meanwhile, amounted to $5.32 trillion.
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