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South Korea, Uzbekistan agree to begin free trade talks

President Moon Jae-in holds a virtual summit with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev (on the screen) at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday.
President Moon Jae-in holds a virtual summit with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev (on the screen) at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday.

President Moon Jae-in and his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, declared the kickoff of free trade talks between the two countries to further strengthen their strategic partnership during an online summit Thursday.

Uzbekistan is one of the key partners in the South Korean government’s New Northern Policy, which aims to explore ways to step up economic cooperation with Central Asian countries under a vision of peace and prosperity in Eurasia.

If the pact, called the Agreement for Sustainable Trade and Economic Partnership, or STEP, is signed as planned, it would become the first of its kind agreed between Seoul and a New Northern Policy partner country.

With Thursday’s declaration, related working-level talks are expected to begin in the first quarter of this year. 

According to Cheong Wa Dae, the bilateral ties gained fresh momentum during Moon’s four-day state visit to Uzbekistan in April 2019. Since then, the two countries have expanded cooperation in diverse sectors as “strategic partners.”

During the summit, which took place via video link, Moon reviewed Seoul’s progress on the New Northern Policy. The Uzbek leader expressed his full support, saying the initiative would play an important role in improving security and boosting exchanges in the Eurasia region.

The two leaders also signed a memorandum of understanding to expand partnerships in the digital and green industrial sectors in Uzbekistan and to support Korean companies in joining the projects, which will involve the digitalization of energy plants and other infrastructure.

They also agreed to continue to cooperate on health care and related areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Uzbek president thanked Seoul for sending medical staff and resources to assist the nation’s fight against the infectious disease.

Moon also expressed gratitude for the Uzbek government’s support for some 180,000 ethnic Koreans, also known as “Koryoin,” citing some stateless Koreans there who recently regained citizenship.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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