S Korea tags conditions for FTA with Japan

Tokyo, February 4:

South Korea is willing to move forward with negotiating a free trade pact with Japan if Tokyo is willing to drastically liberalise trade of farm products, South Korea’s deputy premier said in an interview today.

Han Duck-Soo, who is also finance and economy minister, said South Korea was prepared to start such negotiations, “if Japan were to liberalise trade of 90 per cent of agricultural products. We want to form free trade agreements (FTAs) with important partners like Japan and the United States,” he told the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, “South Korea will press for liberalisation of 90 per cent of trade in all sectors.”

The United States and South Korea agreed on Thursday to launch talks for a free trade agreement, which US president George W Bush said would expand Washington’s engagement in Asia. “If the Japanese government decides its stance over the liberalisation of its agricultural sector, South Korea can negotiate FTAs with Japan and the United States at the same time,” Han said. Tokyo already has free trade pacts with Singapore, Mexico and Malaysia.

Japan has reached similar broad agreements with Thailand and the Philippines and is in ongoing negotiations with South Korea, Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea’s finance ministers agreed today to more than double the amount available for a currency swap framework to $15 billion to help each other in case of a financial crisis.

Japanese finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and his South Korean counterpart, reached the agreement in the first annual, bilateral finance ministers’ meeting, a Japanese official said.