South Korea's trade minister said Wednesday that he expected to see the conclusion of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement with China in the near future, possibly before the end of November.
"We may see significant progress in FTA talks with China in the near future," Yoon Sang-jick said while meeting with reporters here. "Actually, the Chinese side says it wants the FTA negotiations concluded before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in November."
The APEC summit, involving both the South Korean and Chinese presidents, is scheduled to be held in Beijing from Nov. 10-11.
The sudden rush to a conclusion of the South Korea-China FTA talks apparently comes as the countries' heads of state have repeatedly called for efforts to strike a deal before the end of the year.
"The pressure the trade ministers of the two countries feel is enormous," Yoon said.
China is South Korea's largest trading partner, accounting for nearly one quarter of South Korea's overall exports in 2013.
The two countries launched their FTA talks in May 2012, but the negotiations had recently hit a stumbling block over the list of products to be liberalized with South Korea wishing to protect its agriculture products and China its industrial market. The latest round of negotiations, the 12th of their kind, were held in mid-July but ended with little progress.
Yoon, minister of trade, industry and energy, said the 13th round of South Korea-China FTA talks will likely be held before the end of this month, which may be followed by what he called in-between sessions before the countries can declare the conclusion of their negotiations before the APEC summit.
Turning to ongoing FTA negotiations with New Zealand and Vietnam for separate bilateral FTAs, he said he also expected to see their conclusions before the year's end.
"Negotiations with New Zealand are the closest to a conclusion. I believe one more round of negotiations may be enough," he said.
The FTA talks between South Korea and New Zealand were launched in June 2009. They were resumed earlier this year after a four-year suspension.
Vietnam, the minister said, was seeking to conclude its FTA talks with South Korea before their heads of state meet in a special South Korea-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit to be held December in South Korea's southern port city of Busan.
South Korea already has a free trade deal with the 10-member ASEAN. South Korea and Vietnam launched their negotiations for a bilateral FTA in November 2012. (Yonhap)