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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Mexican President Felipe Calderon
agreed Sunday to resume stalled negotiations on a free trade agreement between
their countries this year, an official said.
The two leaders reached the agreement during summit talks held after Lee arrived in the Mexican resort city of Los Cabos for a summit of the Group of 20 major economies, set for Monday and Tuesday.
South Korea and Mexico launched free trade talks in 2007, but the negotiations have been stalled since the second round in 2008 due in part to concerns in Mexico that such a pact could widen its trade deficit with South Korea.
Bilateral trade volume between the two countries stood at US$12 billion last year, with South Korea's exports amounting to $9.7 billion and imports totaling $2.3 billion.
During Sunday's meeting, Lee said he hopes the two countries will restart free trade talks at an early date. Calderon said in response that he agrees to the proposal, saying the two countries have a lot to benefit from free trade, according to presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha.
Calderon also said he hopes that negotiations will reopen before he visits South Korea in September, and that he will try to persuade the country's industrial and political sectors that are negative about the deal.
Calderon's visit to South Korea was agreed upon in Sunday's meeting as he accepted Lee's invitation.
Mexico restricts companies from countries with which it does not have free trade agreements from participating in state projects. Lee asked Calderon to ease the restrictions for South Korean firms, and Calderon said he would positively consider the request, according to Park.
Ahead of the summit, the foreign ministers of the two sides signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that paves the way for South Korea to export a nuclear power plant to the Central American nation.
Mexico relies on nuclear power for about 2.6 percent of its electricity demand and plans to increase the ratio to 8 percent by 2024. The country currently has two commercial nuclear reactors.
As former and incumbent G20 hosts, Lee and Calderon agreed to cooperate closely to ensure the premier economic forum contributes to global economic recovery and growth, the presidential office said in a statement.
Lee and Calderon also expressed satisfaction with the way relations between the two countries have moved forward and agreed to further deepen their ties. The two countries mark the 50th anniversary of establishing ties this year, the office said.
The two sides also shared an understanding on the importance of green growth, and pledged closer cooperation to help develop the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a think tank that South Korea established to develop strategies to promote the environment-friendly cause.
Earlier this month, Mexico pledged to contribute US$150 billion to the GGGI.
Lee has aggressively sought free trade agreements with other countries, saying such deals will expand the country's "economic territory." South Korea now has FTAs with 45 partners, including the United States, the European Union, and the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations.