(ATTN: UPDATES with quote; ADDS background)
By Kim Kwang-tae
MEXICO CITY, April 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Mexico agreed Monday to hold working-level talks later this year on a free trade deal between the two sides, a move that underscored their commitment to further boosting their economic ties.
The agreement was reached at the summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto.
"I expect both sides to produce good fruits by coming up with creative ways at the working-level talks for a win-win," Park said in a joint news conference with Pena Nieto. Park called the agreement to hold the working-level talks "meaningful."
South Korea and Mexico launched free trade talks in 2007, but the negotiations have been stalled since 2008 due to strong opposition from the Mexican automobile industry.
Trade volume between the two countries stood at US$14.4 billion last year, up from $4.2 billion in 2005.
The working-level talks are scheduled to take place between October and December, according to both sides. During the talks, the two sides agreed to discuss Mexico's support for South Korea in case Seoul joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led regional free trade agreement.
South Korea has expressed interest in joining the 12-nation free trade deal, which would create the world's largest trading bloc, accounting for about 40 percent of global gross domestic product. Mexico is one of the members.
"Mexico will support South Korea to join the TPP," Pena Nieto said. He also said he will ensure that the two countries can start a free trade agreement.
Park and Pena Nieto observed the signing of memorandums of understanding that Seoul says could help South Korean companies participate in infrastructure projects.
Mexico is pushing for projects worth $590 billion to modernize such sectors as energy, transport and water resources management.
"We secured a bridgehead for our companies to participate in energy projects worth $17 billion," said An Chong-bum, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs.
Other MOUs include one on telemedicine that is designed to provide quality health care for those in hard-to-access areas and for the elderly by connecting patients to doctors using information technology, usually over the Internet.
Mexico, slightly less than three times the size of Texas, is interested in telemedicine as it suffers doctor shortages. Mexico had 2.2 doctors per 1,000 people in 2012, up from 1.6 doctors in 2000. Still, it remains below an average of 3.2 for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 34 mostly rich nations.
Park said Mexico agreed to faithfully enforce the toughest sanctions on North Korea to curb its desire to maintain its nuclear weapons program. The U.N. Security Council slapped North Korea with the sanctions as punishment for its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and long-range rocket launch on Feb. 7.
Pena Nieto said his country is opposed to a nuclear test.
Mexico has vowed to continue to detain a North Korean freighter despite North Korea's protest.
Mexico detained the Mu Du Bong after identifying the ship as belonging to Ocean Maritime Management, a North Korean firm blacklisted by the U.N. for illegally shipping arms.
The 6,700-ton freighter ran aground on a reef off Tuxpan in the Mexican state of Veracruz in July 2014. Mexico held 33 crew members before releasing them last year.
Park and Pena Nieto also agreed that Mexico will address a row with Kia Motors Corp., South Korea's second-ranked carmaker, by forming a consultative body.
The body would be comprised of Kia Motors and Mexican federal government officials and representatives from the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
Kia Motors was promised, among other things, land for a plant free of charge and a five-year corporate tax exemption by the state of Nuevo Leon for its assembly plant -- which will have an annual capacity of 300,000 units. Kia has said it plans to begin producing vehicles there in May.
Still, the local government of Nuevo Leon has asked for renegotiations, citing its financial woes.
Earlier in the day, Park paid tribute to six Mexican cadets at a monument in Mexico City.
Park laid a wreath at the Heroic Cadets Memorial in Chapultepec Park, a monument that honors the six cadets who fought to the death in 1847 during the Mexican-American War.
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