By Zhang Yunbi
SEOUL - Beijing and Seoul's positions have been "reasoned and well communicated" as they prepare for formal negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement that is expected soon, Kim Min-cheol, one of Seoul's major negotiators, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.
Now China and the Republic of Korea are "at the final stage of the preliminary consultations" that precedes the FTA negotiation, Kim said.
"As long as we finish domestic legislative procedures and on-going consultation with the Chinese counterpart goes on well, it (the start of formal FTA negotiation) may happen within the first half of the year," he indicated.
Currently China is the ROK's largest trading partner, export destination and import source, while the ROK is China's third-largest trade partner.
Annual trade between the two nations has climbed to $245.6 billion (S$309 billion) in 2011, a year-on-year increase of 18 per cent.
Given the trade volume, "the importance of the ROK's bilateral FTA with China outweighs those with the US and with Japan", Kim said.
Seoul's enterprises have benefited from booming trade in outsourcing their manufacturing operations to Chinese partners to make products with high added value, including LED screens that are aimed at a third market, Kim said.
"The trade ties between the two countries are complementary rather than competitive."
Many believe ensuring balanced interests is the top priority of bilateral consultation, but Kim does not think so.
"Instead, the emphasis should be on making the 'cake' bigger and on substantial progress in expanding markets," Kim said, adding that the interests of both sides will "naturally achieve a gradual balance" during the process of trade volume growth.
Kim endorsed the communication with his counterparts from Chinese Ministry of Commerce, and said the Beijing team is very professional and reasonable.