By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday it has launched the first round of free trade negotiations with Cambodia in a bid to penetrate deeper into the Southeast Asian market and overcome economic jitters by the virus pandemic.
During two days of virtual negotiations, Seoul and Phnom Penh will discuss details on the envisioned FTA, including expanding the bilateral economic cooperation, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
The session came more than a year after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed making preparations for the bilateral free trade pact during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Phnom Penh in March 2019.
Cambodia is the 58th-largest export destination for Asia's No. 4 economy.
The trade volume between the two countries reached an all-time high of US$1 billion in 2019, up 6 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korea International Trade Association.
South Korea's shipments to the Southeast Asian nation reached $697 million in 2019, up 5.5 percent on-year. The trade surplus reached $361 million.
The country mostly ships cargo trucks, beverages and knitted textiles to Cambodia, while importing clothes and shoes.
When signed, Cambodia will be added to South Korea's list of FTA partners in Southeast Asia, which currently covers Vietnam and Singapore.
South Korea holds an FTA with ASEAN, but the country has been seeking separate deals with each member to customize the pact.
The country has been making moves to ease its heavy dependence on China and the United States for its exports, as the two economies take up a whopping 40 percent of overall outbound shipments.
The new coronavirus pandemic and the escalating tension between Washington and Beijing also induced South Korea to speed up such efforts.
Seoul and Manila held the fifth round of official negotiations for their FTA in January. Talks with Malaysia are also in progress, and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Indonesia is also awaiting an official signing ceremony.
(URGENT) N. Korea fires an unspecified ballistic missile toward East Sea: S. Korean military
Chinese aircraft intruded into S. Korea's air defense zone more than 70 times last year: military
Yoon's approval rating drops after hot mic incident: poll
N. Korea fires ballistic missile eastward: S. Korean military
(2nd LD) N. Korea fires suspected IRBM eastward: S. Korean military