SEJONG, March 7 (Yonhap) – The latest round of negotiations for a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China and Japan ended without a major breakthrough, officials said Friday, with the talks mostly limited to setting the boundaries of their discussions.
“At this round of talks, the countries held discussions on the modality (negotiation guidelines) for products and the scope of their negotiations,” the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a press release.
The fourth round of the trilateral FTA negotiations had begun on Tuesday in Seoul.
The three countries, which are currently embroiled in various territorial and historical rows, had agreed to pursue a joint FTA in November 2012. The first round of talks opened in March last year.
The South Korean trade ministry said the countries held working group talks on some of the key issues, such as country of origin, customs, and non-tariff barriers. Separate talks were also held on the service industry, investment, and competition, it said.
Working level negotiations of intellectual property rights protection did not take place this time around.
Insiders said Japan showed considerable aggressiveness at the talks, that may have to do in part with Tokyo being conscious of the nine rounds of bilateral FTA talks held between Seoul and Beijing.
Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick had told reporters a day before the start of the talks that the negotiations may not produce any significant outcome, saying “Negotiations do not always go smoothly. In certain cases, the countries must engage in a tug of war.”
The trilateral agreement, if realized, will create one of the world’s largest markets, as the three countries jointly account for 20 percent of global gross domestic product and 17.5 percent of global trade.
The Ministry said that the next round of negotiations will be held in China in July with South Korean officials, stressing that they will bear in mind the need to maintain a degree of consistency with ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks.