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S. Korea, Britain call for quick signing of free trade deal

According to Yonhap News,

(SEOUL=Yonhap News) South Korea and Britain called for the quick making of a free trade agreement to brace for a possible no-deal Brexit, South Korea's finance ministry said Saturday.

The consensus was reached in a meeting between Hong Nam-ki, the minister of economy and finance, and his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, on the sidelines of an international forum on China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing.

The two did not provide a specific timeframe for when the two sides would launch talks.

Britain had planned to leave the European Union on March 29, but the bloc and Britain have recently set Oct. 31 as a new Brexit deadline to allow Britain to find the best possible solution.

Brexit could mean South Korean firms would no longer enjoy the benefits provided under the free trade agreement with the EU when trading with Britain.

South Korean exports to Britain came to US$6.4 billion and its imports from Britain stood at $6.8 billion in 2018, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Energy.

Separately, Hong made a case for boosting cooperation between South Korea and China during the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that ended in the Chinese capital earlier in the day.

China's Belt and Road Initiative is a grand geopolitical strategy to connect China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa through "land and maritime silk roads."

Hong said if South Korean and Chinese firms push to join hands in making inroads into a third country, it could offer new opportunities not only to both countries but the third country as well.

Hong also said it is important for South Korea and China to try to find common ground between China's Belt and Road Initiative and South Korea's policy of seeking to boost economic ties with Southeast Asian countries and the northern region, including Eurasia.

On Friday, Hong held a meeting with Jin Liqun, president of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and called for strengthening bilateral ties.

South Korea joined the multinational lender -- set up in 2015 to fund infrastructure projects in Asia -- as one of 57 founding members.

The AIIB is widely viewed as a potential counterbalance to U.S.-led multilateral lenders, such as the Asian Development Bank, amid growing Chinese economic clout.

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Source: Yonhap News (April 27, 2019)

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