By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed Wednesday to deepen trade ties to cope with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and make efforts to increase the supply of vaccines.
Trade Minister Yeo Han-koo met ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi virtually to share ideas on ways to maintain their supply chain, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
During the meeting, ASEAN acknowledged that South Korea's New Southern Policy meant to expand trade with Southeast Asian nations has contributed to the region's economy.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
South Korea has sought stronger economic ties with Southeast Asian countries to reduce its heavy reliance on large markets, like the United States and China, and to foster new growth drivers.
Outbound shipments to ASEAN came to US$49.2 billion in the first half of 2021, setting a fresh high for the period.
South Korea and ASEAN agreed to make efforts to guarantee free travel of vaccinated businessmen to maintain trade amid the pandemic.
The sides will venture into ways to cooperate in the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
Asia's No. 4 economy also vowed to spare no efforts for the full implementation of the upcoming major trade agreement that accounts for one-third of the world's gross domestic product.
In November, members of ASEAN, along with its dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand -- inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand have completed their domestic procedures.
South Korea plans to submit the bill on the RCEP to the National Assembly this month for approval.
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