The latest round of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement between South Korea and China came to a close on Friday with the two countries merely confirming what officials here called "large differences" on key issues.
"The two sides each requested market liberalization in areas of their own interests, but their discussions could not progress significantly as their differences remained tightly locked," the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a press release.
Their main differences came from the list of products to be liberalized or protected under the proposed free trade deal.
South Korea has demanded an early removal of import tariffs on industrialized goods, while China has been seeking greater access to the South Korean market for food and agricultural products, often considered the most sensitive issue in South Korea's FTA negotiations with countries generally.
"The differences remain wide between South Korea and China on major issues, including products," the ministry said.
In the seventh round of negotiations, held in September, the two countries agreed to remove their import tariffs on 90 percent of all products traded between them.
They have since been working to map out a detailed list of products to be liberalized, but apparently to no avail.
South Korea's top negotiator in the talks with China insisted such difficulties are a necessary part of the process.
"I believe it is a hurdle that must be cleared at least once," Assistant Trade Minister Woo Tae-hee told a press briefing.
"It allows both sides to understand each other's position, and thus I believe it provides an opportunity for the countries to narrow their gap."
Vice Trade Minister Han Jin-hyun earlier said the countries' positions were bound to differ, "depending on which area they focus on more."
Yoon Sang-jick, minister of trade, industry and energy, too, has said, "It does not mean negotiations are not moving forward just because there is no (visible) progress. It rather means the negotiations are moving toward an end."
South Korea has repeatedly said it is giving top priority to FTA negotiations with China, the world's second-largest economy and the largest importer of South Korean goods. South Korea is currently engaged in negotiations for eight new, separate FTAs, including a three-way trade pact that involves China and Japan.
This week's negotiations were the 10th of their kind since the South Korea-China FTA negotiations were first held in May 2012.
The next round of negotiations will be held in China on a date to be decided later, the ministry said. (Yonhap)