SEJONG/SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) – South Korea will develop its small and medium-sized firms through deregulation and conclude new free trade agreements (FTAs) in its efforts to expand its overall trade volume, the country’s trade minister said Wednesday.
Yoon Sang-jick, the minister of trade, industry and energy, said China’s slowing economic growth may adversely affect the country’s exports and economy this year.
“While paying close attention to the Chinese market, the country needs to diversify its overseas markets to help maintain the stable growth of its exports,” Yoon said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.
China is the world’s largest importer of South Korean products, purchasing over US$141 billion worth of goods that accounted for over 26 percent of South Korea’s total exports in 2013. The amount compares with some US$60 billion worth of products shipped last year to the United States, the world’s second-largest importer of South Korean goods.
Diversifying the country’s overseas markets includes ongoing efforts to sign new FTAs, the minister said.
South Korea is currently engaged in negotiations for eight new bilateral and multilateral FTAs, including a three-way free trade pact with China and Japan, while also seeking to revise or upgrade an existing deal with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“This year, the country will especially work to conclude FTA negotiations with China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the three countries of the British Commonwealth,” Yoon said. The Commonwealth refers to Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The minister noted that new bilateral FTAs with China, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, when implemented, will help expand the country’s trade territory to 71 percent of the global gross domestic product.
Meanwhile, China is “speeding up” ongoing negotiations with South Korea aimed at forging a bilateral free trade agreement, Premier Li Keqiang said Wednesday, as the country began its annual policy-setting session of the legislature.
China will “speed up free trade area talks with the Republic of Korea, Australia, and the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Li said in a work report to the National People’s Congress.
South Korea and its biggest trading partner, China, began their formal free trade negotiations in May 2012. Since then, they have held nine rounds of negotiations.
Agriculture and fisheries are considered to be the most sensitive sectors for South Korea, while China categorizes its manufacturing industries, which include the automobile, machinery and oil sectors, as sensitive.