Korea Herald | 19 December 2019
S. Korea eyes more FTAs with emerging countries in 2020
South Korea said Thursday it plans to expand its global network of free-trade agreements in 2020 by establishing deeper ties with emerging countries to ease its reliance on the world’s top two economies and seek a balanced portfolio.
"We need to ease our export dependence on specific countries and diversify our basket," Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said during a meeting with related ministries held in Seoul. "Thus, we need to discover business opportunities that can benefit trading partners as well."
Seoul’s FTA push is significant as global protectionism, including the trade war between Washington and Beijing, is hurting Asia’s No. 4 economy.
The country’s outbound shipments dropped 14.3 percent in November from a year earlier to extend their slump to a 12th consecutive month. It marked the longest drop since the 19-month consecutive decrease seen from January 2015 to July 2016.
For all of 2019, the exports are projected to plunge more than 10 percent on-year.
While this year’s decrease was mostly led by the slump in the chip industry, the lengthy dispute between the US and China — which take up 40 percent of South Korea’s exports — provided a wakeup call for the export-reliant economy.
In line with the move, South Korea struck a free-trade deal with Indonesia last month, which will be implemented after going through remaining processes, including securing approval from their respective parliaments.
Other major partners that forged an FTA with South Korea this year include tech-savvy Israel, which is expected to take effect in the first half of 2020.
A handful of FTA negotiations are also in progress, including with the Philippines and Malaysia. Last month, South Korea and Cambodia agreed to launch a joint feasibility study on their bilateral pact as well.
Other potential partners include Egypt and Mexico, according to the ministry.
Next year, South Korea also vowed to monitor the latest disruption at the World Trade Organization, which may adversely affect industries whose disputes are pending at the Geneva-based institution.
Earlier this month, the WTO Appellate Body shut down as it failed to meet the quorum of three judges after the United States blocked the appointment of new ones amid US President Donald Trump’s protectionism drive.
Seoul currently has six trade disputes pending at the WTO body, with two of them being directly affected by the latest deadlock.
"As countries may aggressively roll out protectionism measures amid the halt of the WTO body, South Korea plans to come up with measures to defend our trade," an official from the trade ministry said.