Seoul and Beijing will likely begin proper free trade negotiations early next year, Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon told the Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday.
"The two governments can start preliminary talks around September on sensitive items" such as automobiles and agriculture. Despite China's estimate that preliminary talks will take about six months, "it'll be possible to finish them quickly if everything proceeds smoothly," he added.
"Korea is sensitive about agro-fisheries products and China about industrial products like cars and IT goods," Kim said. "In preliminary talks, the two countries will discuss which of the target goods should be treated as sensitive items."
The ultimate goal is to establish a free trade zone in East Asia involving Korea, China and Japan by concluding a free trade agreement with them, he added.
Commenting on the Korea-U.S. FTA bill, which has been epically delayed in the U.S. Congress, Kim said, "My visit to the U.S. in May gave me the impression that Congress is unlikely to ratify the FTA before mid-term elections there in November." But he pointed out that a group of congressmen has been stressing the importance of the trade pact for American business.