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SEOUL, April 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea decided Friday to join a mega free trade agreement involving 11 Asia-Pacific nations as the country seeks to diversify its export portfolio amid heightened economic uncertainty.
Late last year, the country launched the process to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The plan to join the CPTPP was approved at an economy-related ministers' meeting Friday, and the government will submit an official application after completing domestic procedures, including a report to the National Assembly, officials said.
"The envisioned entry carries significance, as it would help us better respond to fast-changing global circumstances and ensure stable supply chains in the Asia-Pacific region," Trade Minister Yeo Han-koo said.
The CPTPP, launched in December 2018, has been signed by 11 countries, including Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico.
The member nations had accounted for around 15 percent of the world's total trade volume of US$5.2 trillion as of 2020, according to government data.
The CPTPP is the renegotiated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) led by the former U.S. President Barack Obama administration.
In 2017, then U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the TPP, widely seen as a key counterweight to China's growing economic clout.
The government has said it plans to submit the CPTPP application before President Moon Jae-in's five-year term ends on May 9.
The incoming government of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is expected to take on negotiations for the country's membership, which is expected to take at least one year.
"The government has carefully reviewed joining the CPTPP over the past eight years, and the entry decision was made after considering its economic and strategic values," the trade ministry said.
The CPTPP accession would boost trade and investment for South Korea, increasing its gross domestic product by 0.33-0.35 percent, the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy estimated.
Farmers and fishermen, however, have opposed the move, citing its potential damage to the agricultural and fishery sectors.
According to government assessments, the market opening is likely to cause production in the agricultural sector to fall by up to 440 billion won (US$358.01 million) per year for 15 years to come, and the envisioned growth in fisheries imports would also reduce local production worth by up to 72.4 billion won per year.
The government said it will make efforts to reflect calls by the potentially affected sectors as much as possible in its negotiations for the CPTPP accession and draw up measures to support them, when needed.
The trade ministry also made it clear that the joining of the agreement does not mean South Korea would lift a ban on imports of seafood from Japan's Fukushima region.
Since 2013, Seoul has banned all seafood imports from eight Japanese prefectures near Fukushima on concerns over their radiation levels in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown.
"Whether to allow the imports of Fukushima seafood is a matter of the health and safety of the people, and it is not related to the CPTPP. It is also not a precondition for membership," the ministry said.
Japan has reportedly long been reluctant to South Korea's joining due mainly to Seoul's ban on Fukushima seafood.
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