Trade ministers from South Korea, Japan and China said on Saturday that they agreed to push to launch negotiations for a three-way free trade agreement by the end of this year.
The agreement reached in Beijing by South Korean Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho, Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano and Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming is to be recommended to a trilateral summit slated for Sunday in the Chinese capital, the ministers said.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived in Beijing Saturday for Sunday's annual summit talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, which are expected to focus on tripartite economic cooperation and North Korea's provocations.
"We shared the view that a trilateral free trade agreement would boost trade and investment among the three countries and provide the framework for comprehensive and structural cooperation," the three ministers said in a joint statement.
"We also agreed to recommend an early launch of FTA talks to our leaders. The three countries should immediately start preparatory works, including domestic procedures and working-level negotiations."
In a news conference held after the ministers' meeting, Bark said,"This year is significant, as it marks the 40th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China and the 20th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic ties. We wish to further enhance tripartite relations in the economic field."
South Korea, China and Japan, which together account for about 20 percent of global gross domestic product, carried out non-governmental academic research on the trilateral FTA from 2003 to 2011.
Seoul has agreed with China to start negotiations for a bilateral FTA, with the first session slated for Monday in Beijing.
In contrast, South Korea and Japan suspended negotiations for a bilateral FTA in 2004. Japan and China have yet to enter talks for a bilateral FTA.