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South Korea and China have reached an agreement on the modality or basic guidelines for their negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), the Seoul government said Friday.
The agreement came at the end of three-day talks that ended Thursday in Beijing, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
"At this week's meeting, the two sides reached an agreement on the modality for the FTA, concluding the first stage negotiations for the Korea-China FTA that began in May last year," said Woo Tae-hee, Seoul's assistant trade minister and a chief negotiator for the FTA talks with China.
The first phase negotiations mainly sought to decide the level of liberalization, often the most sensitive issue in FTA negotiations.
The countries were able to reach separate agreements on basic guidelines for all areas, including products, service, investment and economic cooperation, Woo told a press briefing here.
"In the products sector, the two countries agreed to liberalize or remove import tariffs on 90 percent of all products in terms of the number of products or on 85 percent of all imports in terms of their monetary value," Woo said.
In 2012, the number of products exchanged between the two countries came to about 12,000, according to the ministry official, which means up to 1,200 products may still be excluded from the proposed FTA.
The 90-percent liberalization level compares with South Korea's near 100-percent market opening under its bilateral FTA with Turkey.
Woo said the target level of liberalization still was not too low, adding the countries have also agreed on the possibility of raising the level during their second-phase negotiations.
"This number is only a kind of reference. I believe a more specific number will be set through future negotiations," he told reporters.
For the service and investment sectors, the countries agreed to seek a free trade agreement of a "high level," Woo said.
He said the second-phase negotiations will likely be launched before the end of the year.
Source: Yonhap News (Sep. 6, 2013)