By Kang Yoon-seung
SEJONG, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will spare no efforts to help conclude a mega Asia-Pacific trade deal by the end of this year by forging deeper ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as the country strives to revitalize its ailing exports, Seoul's trade ministry said Tuesday.
In line with the efforts, Yeo Han-koo, deputy minister for trade negotiations, plans to visit the headquarters of ASEAN in Indonesia on Wednesday to meet the regional bloc's Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
"The RCEP, the largest free-trade agreement in the world will help participating countries overcome the global uncertainties, along with the looming protectionism," an official from the trade ministry said.
ASEAN and its dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand -- effectively reached an agreement on RCEP in November, with the goal of signing the pact within this year.
The agreement came after the participating nations launched their talks in 2013 on a deal that would create a mega economic bloc accounting for half of the global population and one-third of the world's gross domestic product.
The participation of India, which did not join the agreement, will be decided before the deal's formal signing slated for 2020.
South Korea said it will actively engage in the on-going efforts to finalize the deal this year in tune with its New Southern Policy, which is aimed at bolstering Seoul's strategic and economic relations with Southeast Asian countries.
The RCEP is especially crucial for the export-oriented economy, whose outbound shipments have been losing ground amid the U.S.-China trade spat and a slump in the global chip industry.
South Korea's exports came to US$542.4 billion last year, down 10.3 percent from a year earlier. It marked the first time in 10 years for the annual exports to drop by a two-digit percentage.
On the back of its efforts to diversify the export portfolio, however, Southeast Asian countries accounted for more than 20 percent of the outbound shipments last year for the first time, rising from 19.1 percent posted in 2018.
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