South Korea prioritizes Asia trade pacts over Pacific partnership

May 17, 2012


WASHINGTON--South Korea will monitor Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations while it pursues competing free trade pacts with Asian partners, but Seoul hopes the various regional trade agreements will one day merge, Trade Minister Taeho Bark said on May 16.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact is a pillar of Washington's efforts to help propel U.S. economic growth. The U.S. partners are Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

South Korea, which is studying the idea of joining the TPP, feels it can wait out early rounds, now that a bilateral Korea-U.S. free trade agreement has been implemented, Bark said in a speech in Washington.

"Because of the KORUS FTA, we are getting a little more monitoring time ... in joining TPP," he said.

"We have a keen interest in joining TPP later, when we find everything has stabilized," added Bark. He noted that Seoul already has free trade pacts with most of the nine TPP states.

"We have to sit and analyze what kind of level TPP is aiming for," said the minister, a former think tank economist.

Bark said he had just returned from Beijing, where the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan agreed to launch negotiations on a three-way free-trade pact, one of several negotiations in the region that Seoul is pursuing.

"These East Asian movements and TPP will progress in parallel for the time being," said Bark.

"At a later stage, between an East Asian pact and the Trans-Pacific pact, we want to (play) some role in merging these together," he said, while stressing this was a long-term prospect.

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