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(LEAD) S. Korea, China weigh free trade agreement

All Headlines 16:47 October 10, 2009

(ATTN: ADDS comments by Japan's premier in last para)

BEIJING, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and China agreed Saturday to step up efforts to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) aimed at stimulating bilateral trade by lowering market barriers between the two neighboring countries.

The agreement was made under a strategic guideline signed between South Korea's Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon and his Chinese counterpart Chen Deming in Beijing, officials in Seoul said.

Both sides also agreed to intensify efforts to more than double their bilateral trade to US$300 billion through 2015 while expanding investments between the two countries down the road. They selected 23 key industries, including the tech, finance, auto, shipyard and agricultural sectors in which to focus investments.

South Korea currently has free trade deals with Chile, Singapore, and the European Free Trade Association, while an FTA with the United States is awaiting parliamentary ratification.

But Seoul has failed to sign a tariff-lowering deal with China and Japan, two of its closest neighbors, due to economic and political differences.

The broad trade agreement comes as the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan met in Beijing, renewing their commitment to boosting ties in order to better address issues confronting not just the region but also the international community.

In a press conference jointly held with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed hope that the three Asian countries will sign a free trade deal as early as possible next year.


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