November 21, 2012 12:31
Negotiations will begin next year over a massive free trade agreement encompassing the 10 ASEAN member countries plus Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
President Lee Myung-bak, who attended the East Asia Summit in Cambodia early this week, agreed with the leaders of regional countries on Tuesday to start talks next year on forging a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The countries plan to wrap up negotiations by 2015.
The RCEP would lead to the creation of an economic bloc encompassing 3.4 billion people with a combined GDP of US$19.8 trillion as of 2011, surpassing the EU in scale.
Lee said in Phnom Penh that various regional economic blocs "must not be exclusive but complementary" and should be pursued by getting participating nations to open up their economies. If the RCEP and another inter-regional pact including Pacific-rim countries come to fruition, "we could create an Asia-Pacific free trade zone that brings the entire region together as one over the long term," Lee added.
After the close of the summit, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the RCEP will spur development and prosperity in East Asia.
Referring to North Korea, Lee said the resolution of the nuclear standoff is the "top priority," but added that from the standpoint of the North’s 20 million people, "human rights and freedom" are also pressing problems.
Lee urged Pyongyang to abide by international conventions and join the global community to improve the living conditions and human rights there, pledging support from Seoul.
After wrapping up his visit to Cambodia, Lee flew to the United Arab Emirates.
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