January 10, 2012 13:27
Official negotiations for a free-trade agreement with China will begin in February or March. The FTA would make South Korea the only country with free-trade deals with the world's three biggest markets -- the European Union, the U.S., and China.
A high ranked official in Cheong Wa Dae said the FTA would come as "a big shock" to North Korea, which is facing insecurity after the death of leader Kim Jong-il, because China is its most trusted ally.
According to Kim Tae-hyo, Cheong Wa Dae's deputy national security adviser, President Lee Myung-bak told Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao Beijing on Monday that Seoul will embark on domestic procedures necessary to begin the official negotiations for the FTA soon. "The domestic procedures will take between one or two months," Kim added.
The process involves several prior procedures such as public hearings and decisions by related ministers. But the negotiations have a rocky road ahead, because there are several conflict areas like the agricultural sector where Korea is expected to suffer.
Lee at the summit called for a framework which allows sufficient discussion of sensitive areas such as agricultural products and fisheries, and the two leaders agreed that they should try to reach consensus on them first before industry and manufacturing.
As for the North Korean issue, Hu praised the "calm and composed attitude" South Korea has shown in the wake of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il including Lee's message to North Korea in his new year's address. "China will support reconciliatory efforts between the two Koreas, and do its best in its given role," he said.
The "role" Hu was talking about is to induce reform and opening in North Korea and persuade the isolated country to improve its relations with South Korea, Kim explained.
As for the six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea, Lee expressed hope that dialogue among the countries involved can lead to their resumption. Hu said, "Although it may be difficult to resume the talks in near future, let's work together to make that happen."
The two also discussed illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers in South Korean waters. Hu said Beijing takes the issue "very seriously" and pledged to tighten controls of Chinese fishermen as well as cooperate with South Korean authorities. The two sides agreed to reinforce bilateral cooperation on illegal fishing and set up a new consultative body that meets twice a year to handle the issue.
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