South Korea and Indonesia announced Wednesday they will kick off official negotiations to open up trade between the two countries and agreed to hold the first round of talks as early as possible.
The two sides made the announcement on the launch of talks on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA), which is equivalent to a free trade agreement, in a joint statement issued after a summit between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Yudhoyono has been in Seoul to attend the Nuclear Security Summit that concluded two days of meetings on Tuesday.
South Korea and Indonesia held three rounds of preliminary talks last year under an agreement to conduct a joint study into the possibility of a bilateral free trade pact.
South Korea has a free trade accord with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that includes Indonesia. But the country has also been seeking bilateral pacts with some ASEAN members to further boost trade with the region.
Indonesia is the most populous ASEAN member and has rich natural resources.
South Korea, a resource-scarce nation that relies mainly on exports for economic growth, has been aggressively seeking free-trade accords with foreign countries to expand what Lee calls the country's "economic territory."
The fourth-largest Asian economy has eight FTAs already in effect, including those with the United States, the European Union and India, and is in negotiations with seven other nations, including Turkey, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
Lee and Yudhoyono agreed to try to boost trade volume between the two countries to US$50 billion by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020, according to the joint statement.
The two leaders also pledged to strengthen cooperation in defense, energy and resources and infrastructure, the statement said.
Indonesia is a major customer for the South Korean defense industry. The country awarded two massive contracts to South Korea last year, one of them to purchase submarines and the other to purchase T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jets.
The two sides agreed to expand cooperation on natural gas development and transportation projects. Indonesia is one of the world's largest natural gas producers. On the sidelines of Yudhoyono's trip to Seoul, the two countries are scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation.
Lee and Yudhoyono reaffirmed their pledge to work together for Indonesia's mid- and long-term economic development plan, known as the "Master Plan." Last month, South Korea opened an economic cooperation office in Jakarta to handle the issue, the joint statement said.
The sides also agreed to hold a foreign ministers' meeting at least once a year, it said.
On North Korea, the two leaders shared a consensus on the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability as well as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and expressed concerns that Pyongyang's rocket launch plan could hurt these efforts.
They also urged the communist nation to abide by the relevant U.N. resolutions, it said.