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Latest round of S. Korea-China FTA ends after 'good start'

The latest round of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and China ended Friday after the countries exchanged their initial offers for the level of liberalization for goods, marking what South Korean officials called a good start.

The latest round of South Korea-China FTA negotiations, the eighth of its kind, had been held since Monday in South Korea's western port city of Incheon.

"In the latest round of negotiations, the two sides began discussions for a rough draft of the trade agreement and on the level of liberalization for products, based on the agreed modality," the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a press release.

Woo Tae-hee, South Korea's assistant trade minister, later said both South Korea's and China's offers on the list of products to be liberalized under the envisioned FTA included some farm products that are considered "not or less sensitive."

The agricultural market is often considered the most sensitive area, especially in South Korea, as many fear the FTA with China may lead to an overflow of cheap Chinese farm products into the South Korean market.

Still, a ministry official said the exchange of the countries' initial positions on the level of liberalization marked a "good start," noting no major breakthrough may ever come from what he called the de-facto first round of negotiations.

This week's talks marked the first of their kind since the two countries concluded what they call the "first phase" of negotiations early September after reaching an agreement on the modality or basic guidelines for the FTA, including the level of market liberalization.

The ministry said separate working group talks have also been held for all other areas, including service and investment, as well as intellectual property rights, competition and environment, that are subject to liberalization under the proposed trade deal.

Woo said this week's meeting had more to offer than anticipated.

"There are two main points, and they are the exchange of offers on the level of liberalization and the exchange of draft texts for the agreement," he told a press briefing.

"In case of the former (offer), China came up with its offer with more sincerity than we had anticipated."

Woo, however, noted China's text for the envisioned FTA was somewhat disappointing.

"I understand China has concluded about 12 (free trade) deals, but that this (South Korea-China FTA) will be China's first FTA of a high-level," he said.

China's text "had some distance from what we had anticipated, and so we can say we have some ways to go on the agreement's text,"

said Woo, also Seoul's chief negotiator in the FTA with China.

The so-called second phase negotiations, starting with the latest round, will seek to map out a more detailed agreement for each sector, such as products, service, investment and employment.

The next round of negotiations will be held in China with its dates to be decided later, the ministry said. (Yonhap News)

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