China, Japan, SKorea to begin free trade talks in 2012: China

China, Japan, SKorea to begin free trade talks in 2012: China

Beijing: China, Japan and South Korea are expected to kick off negotiations for a trilateral free trade agreement after completing an ongoing feasibility study in 2012, a Chinese newspaper reported on Thursday, quoting a senior government official.

Vice commerce minister Yi Xiaozhun was quoted as telling the China Daily that the move is intended to reduce the three countries’ reliance on the United States and the European Union as the US economy slumps and Europe suffers from the debt crisis.

“The financial crisis has made us aware of the huge risks if we continuously bet on the US and the EU to spur exports," Yi was quoted as saying on the sidelines of a meeting of the joint study committee in Weihai, Shandong Province.

“A regional FTA that could help boost foreign trade and investment of the three nations, and reduce reliance on Western markets, is a way out," he said.

China and South Korea are expected to start FTA talks next year.

While stressing the importance of the trilateral FTA as a steppingstone for regional integration, Yi acknowledged that there are “hard nuts" to crack during negotiations, according to the paper.

“The agriculture sector is sensitive for Japanese and (South) Korean counterparts, but the opening of industrial sectors including steel, chemicals and the auto industry will affect Chinese industry," he was quoted as saying.

“However, we are confident that we can tackle all the problems step by step," the vice minister said.

The envisaged trilateral FTA would be the world’s third largest after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to Zhang Xiaoji, a senior researcher at the State Council’s Development Research Center and a member of the joint study committee.