By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's free trade deals may further increase this year in line with its efforts to revitalize its ailing pandemic-hit exports and cope with the growing protectionism around the globe, a trade promotion agency said Monday.
South Korea and Britain implemented their bilateral FTA on Friday to maintain their trades regardless of London's departure from the European Union.
Following the move, the country now has 17 free trade pacts that cover 56 countries around the globe.
The free trade partners accounted for roughly 70 percent of the country's overall exports in 2019, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).
With South Korea also expecting its first free trade pact with Japan under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), free trade partners are anticipated to take up 77 percent of its trade in the future.
Asia's No. 4 economy currently awaits the official launch of the RCEP later this year, which covers ASEAN and its dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
South Korea, meanwhile, plans to sign more FTAs down the road to diversify its trade portfolio and ease its heavy dependence on China and the United States, which take up around 40 percent of exports.
Seoul and Jakarta also signed the comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) last year, which now awaits parliamentary approval. The CEPA is equivalent to a free trade agreement but focuses on a broader scope of economic cooperation.
South Korea is negotiating with Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia as well.
While South Korea already enjoys free trade under its FTA with ASEAN, the country believes that separate deals will help exporters enjoy more customized conditions.
Other potential deals for 2021 include a trilateral FTA among South Korea, Japan and China, along with separate deals with Russia and Ecuador.
The country also has completed negotiations with Israel in August 2019 and is currently preparing for an official signing ceremony.
South Korea's exports decreased 5.4 percent in 2020 from the previous year amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
For December, however, the monthly exports advanced 12.6 percent on-year to reach $51.4 billion. It marked the first time since November 2018 for the export volume to surpass the $50 billion mark.
The latest recovery was largely attributable to the rebound in the outbound shipments of memory chips.
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