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China FTA progress fuels TPP push

Korea has emerged as a potential linchpin in the intricate regional chessboard where multilateral trade partnerships are on the rise.

And now, with slow but steady progress being made in the bilateral Korea-China Free Trade Agreement talks, momentum is building for Korea to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite the government’s contrary claims.

“Our trade policy remains unchanged and that means that the Korea-China FTA is at all times the top priority,” said Woo Tae-hee, chief trade negotiator of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

With the comments, he reiterated the government’s denial of the mounting speculation about Korea being poised to join the TPP talks as early as the end of this year.

The representatives of Korea and China held the eighth round of trade talks over the week to kick off second-phase negotiations.

Both countries exchanged their views and offers on details such as the place of origin, customs formalities, trade solutions and technical barriers to trade, according to the trade negotiator.

They also kicked off discussion on financial services and telecommunication.

There is still a long road ahead for lifting trade barriers between Korea and China, however, as supersensitive issues such as agricultural and livestock goods were excluded from the round table this time.

“This is the first time that China is willing to consider a high-level trade deal (allowing a broader range of tariff cut),” Woo said, acknowledging that China’s offer had fallen below Korea’s expectations.

“But we expect further progress in the next round of talks, which is to be held in China in February next year.”

Considering the slow yet visible progress being made in the Korea-China trade ties, Korea should continue to keep a balanced watch on the TPP round as well, while reserving its stance on the membership, Woo added.

“Being a representative trading country, Korea is well suited for the TPP format and is likely to join the round sometime in the future,” he said.

Also, in order to play its role as a “linchpin” ― a keyword put forward by the ministry earlier this year ― Korea will eventually have to expand its leverage in the global trade forum, according to the official.

“But for now we are still weighing the pros and cons as the TPP, just as much as the Korea-China FTA will heavily influence our local industries in many ways.”

Amid escalating disputes, the MOTIE last week held a public hearing on whether or not it should join the TPP round in its initial phase.

By Bae Hyun-jung (