Citing experts, Lee stressed that Korean products imported under the accord will compete mostly with other foreign goods.
The FTA will “rather help increase Mexico’s exports to Korea,” as the demand for them is growing in Korea, Lee said in an interview with El Universal, a major Mexican daily, as he began a three-day state visit here Wednesday.
During summit talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday, Lee was expected to try to resume the FTA negotiations, which began in 2007 but came to a halt a year later amid opposition from Mexico’s business circles.
Lee hopes to “secure political momentum” for the resumption of FTA talks between Korea and Mexico, Cheong Wa Dae said.
Lee will also discuss Korean companies’ participation in Mexico’s modernization of oil refineries, construction of transportation and IT infrastructure, and seek support for Seoul’s U.N. diplomacy against North Korea.
Mexico is Korea’s largest trading partner in the region. Their two-way trade volume totaled $8.1 billion in 2009. More than 1,400 Korean companies operate in Mexico, mostly engaged in the manufacturing of electronics goods, steel and automobile parts, employing about 40,000 local workers.
|President Lee Myung-bak visits a national cemetery in Mexico City on Wednesday. Yonhap News|
Korea regards Mexico as an advanced base for its inroads into Central and South America.
Lee said the two countries have great potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in various sectors.
“The two nations can be strategically important partners to provide a gateway for their advance into North East Asia and North America, respectively,” he said in the interview.
Lee also held out expectations over closer partnership on the global stage.
Mexico is a major player at the U.N., the G20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, and has cooperated closely on global issues such as climate change and disarmament. Mexico is also a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, which is currently debating whether to uphold Seoul’s accusation of North Korea as the attacker of a South Korean naval ship.
Officials said Lee expects Mexico’s continued support for Seoul’s campaign to punish Pyongyang for the March 26 sinking that took the lives of 46 South Korean seamen.
Upon his arrival in the Mexican capital, Lee visited a national cemetery to pay tribute to fallen Mexican patriots and met with a group of Korean residents.
Lee is also scheduled to hold a meeting with Mexican business leaders Thursday.
Lee’s three-day visit to Mexico comes after his trip to Toronto to attend the G20 summit last weekend and then to Panama City for summit talks with eight Central American countries to seek stronger economic partnership.
Lee and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe agreed during their summit Wednesday to speed up ongoing talks for a bilateral free trade agreement and enhance friendly ties that date back to the Korean War.
Lee had a one-on-one summit with Uribe in Panama shortly before his departure for Mexico.
“President Lee expressed satisfaction with Korean companies’ growing investment in Colombia as the South American country’s security conditions and investment environment improved,” Lee’s office, Cheong Wa Dae, said in a press release issued after his arrival here.
“President Uribe welcomed Korean companies investing in Colombia and promised active support for them.”
Lee and Uribe agreed to speedily conclude the FTA talks that began last December.
The two leaders also vowed to push for early signing of agreements to guarantee investment, avoid double taxation and expand the scope of loans called the Economic Development Cooperation Fund.
Colombia is the only Latin American nation that dispatched troops to the 1950-53 Korean War to help the South fight against the invading North. Of 4,314 Colombian soldiers sent, 214 were killed, according to official data.
As South Korea marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the war and Colombia celebrates the 200th anniversary of its independence this year, Lee proposed that the two sides forge a future-oriented partnership, Cheong Wa Dae said.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)