South Korea may need more time to decide whether to take part in ongoing negotiations for a regional free trade pact, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the country's deputy trade minister said Wednesday, noting it may also require additional bilateral talks with other countries.
"Holding preliminary talks with all participating countries does not mean we are ready (to make a decision). Different countries have different conditions, and thus some may require two or even three rounds of talks," Choi Kyong-lim said while meeting with reporters in Sejong.
"Our hope is to complete the process at the earliest date possible, but there is no guarantee that the process will be completed in the near future or before the end of March."
Choi and other officials have been holding "preliminary talks" to check conditions for South Korea's participation in the TPP with eight of the 12 countries that are currently taking part in the TPP negotiations. Talks with Brunei and New Zealand are scheduled for this week.
Similar talks with Japan and Vietnam are expected to be held later this month or in early March, though their dates have not been fixed, according to Choi.
Choi said the countries, at least in principle, welcome South Korea's proposed membership in the regional trade pact that is widely seen as a U.S. counter to rising China.
Some, however, "have expressed a position that they might need to see when and how South Korea would join the negotiations, especially as the ongoing negotiations are nearing an end," he said.
The deputy minister said the countries with which additional talks may be needed include the United States.
Even after additional preliminary talks, South Korea may need some time to decide whether to join the U.S.-led TPP, he noted.
"Basically, there are no great difficulties in meeting the requirements under the TPP as the country has already concluded (high-level) FTAs with the United States and the European Union. Still, there appear to be some new elements that are not included in the Korea-U.S. FTA and others as (the TPP) is, indeed, a new pact," Choi said. (Yonhap)