FTAs are ‘matter of life and death’: S. Korea

The China Post news staff and CNA

The China Post news staff and CNA–Citing the word of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that free trade agreements (FTA) are not a political issue but a matter of life and death, South Korean Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho encouraged Taiwan to expand its trade relations with other countries. Bark admitted that the issue of U.S. beef imports is tricky. In the coming South Korean presidential election the issue is easily raised by opposition parties, he said. Thus, the South Korean government is extremely cautious. Our government has enhanced inspection, but banning U.S. beef imports completely is not an option, according to the minister. Due to mad cow disease in the U.S., consumer confidence in U.S. beef in South Korea decreased significantly, stated the trade minister. It is the task of our government and the U.S. to provide a safe food market, Bark said. According to Bark, when the Japan, China and South Korea FTA is formed, it will become the center of economic integration in East Asia. The framework of ASEAN+3 will take shape. Bark said all bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements in Asia can progress at the same time, and in the future an Asian free trade area can be the engine of economic growth. No Timetable for Signing

China-South Korea FTA The talks between China and South Korea on a bilateral free trade agreement will not be easy and it will be difficult to set a timetable for signing the pact, a South Korean negotiator said Wednesday. Choi Seok-young, South Korean deputy foreign affairs and trade minister for free trade agreements, said his country expects the FTA to include deep tariff cuts on a wide range of products, unlike the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between China and Taiwan. China may have different ideas, however, which means the negotiations will not be easy, Choi said after a speech at a think tank in the United States. Choi said it is difficult to set a timetable for the China-South Korean pact as political factors may play a part in determining when the agreement will be signed. The official’s remarks were contrary to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s projection of a two-year timeframe in which to conclude the FTA. Chen Deming, China’s minister of commerce, also said in early May that he hoped the agreement could be signed in two years. In related news, President Ma Ying-jeou and Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉), vice chairman of the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation, have both expressed hopes of accelerating the follow-up ECFA talks to finish in two years, in view of the threat to Taiwan’s place in the regional economy posed by a China-South Korea FTA.

Mainland Affairs Council spokesman Liu Te-shun (劉德勳) said there is no timetable for the ECFA follow-up but both sides will keep working on it.