|South Korean President Park Geun-hye meets Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before their summit in New Delhi on Thursday. (Yonhap News)|
The leaders of South Korea and India agreed to upgrade their economic, diplomatic and security cooperation on Thursday, paving the way for a strategic partnership between the two countries in the future.
After their summit in New Delhi, President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that the two countries would elevate the level of the comprehensive economic partnership agreement, or CEPA, and strengthen diplomatic, defense and cultural cooperation for coprosperity.
Park is currently on a four-day state visit to India to cement ties with the world’s largest democracy and fastest-emerging economy.
“Prime Minister Singh and I agreed to create better trade and investment environments for the two countries by upgrading the CEPA as soon as possible,” President Park said in a news conference held after the signing ceremony of the agreements.
The CEPA was signed by the two countries in August 2009, but the level of free trade is not so high, officials said, adding that Korean companies have been slow to enter the market. If the level of the trade pact is upgraded, it will be expected to offer Korean business wider access to the world’s second-most populous market of 1.2 billion. India is South Korea’s 12th-largest trading partner and has become a crucial partner for its geopolitical importance.
In order to speed up the process of upgrading the trade pact, the two agreed to hold a ministerial meeting in Seoul in March and to facilitate $200 million worth of funds to support Korean companies’ operations in India.
In a joint statement, the two leaders agreed to closely work together to revise an agreement on preventing double taxation and the current aviation treaty to help carriers increase their operations between the two countries.
Aimed at promoting cultural and human exchange, India decided to provide visa-on-arrival services to Koreans.
To enhance security cooperation, the two governments said they would hold ministerial summits on defense and diplomacy on a regular basis. The two also shared ideas on developing bilateral cooperation in science, IT and nuclear power generation, the presidential office said.
In addition, the two sides signed the Agreement on the Protection of Classified Military Information, saying it would contribute to improving trust and cooperation in defense.
The two leaders also reaffirmed the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and urged North Korea to abandon its nuke weapon development program, stressing that it needs to fulfill its responsibility as a member of an international community. Park shared her vision for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, known as the “Korean Peninsula trust process” and the “Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative,” and Singh praised her efforts to promote peace in the region.
The two leaders also agreed to help South Korean steelmaker POSCO speed up its stalled business project in India.
POSCO signed a memorandum of understanding with the eastern Indian state of Odisha in 2005 to build a $12 billion plant -- capable of producing up to 12 million tons of steel. The project, however, has been stalled due to regulatory and administrative delays.
A regulatory procedure will be lifted by the state government for POSCO so that it can secure 2,700 acres of land to start the project. The state government has also vowed to grant iron ore exploration rights to POSCO, the presidential office said.
Later in the afternoon, Park met Indian opposition leader and leading female politician Sushma Swaraj, and asked for the Indian parliament’s support in the planned CEPA revision and for the POSCO steel plant project.
Park also attended a state banquet hosted by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in the evening.
On Friday, she plans to attend economic cooperation meetings and meet Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian firm that acquired Korean automaker Ssangyong Motors in 2011.
It is Park’s first overseas trip in her second year in office. The visit is part of Park’s “sales diplomacy” drive aimed at strengthening Korea’s economic and business ties with the country. She also hopes to share her vision of “creative economy” with her counterparts and seek ways to increase bilateral cooperation to realize that vision, Cheong Wa Dae officials said. The trip also came after she vowed in her New Year’s news conference to focus on boosting the country’s economy during the next three years.
After India, the president plans to visit Switzerland for four days. It will be the first state visit by a South Korean president to the European country.
By Cho Chung-un and news reports (firstname.lastname@example.org)