BUSAN ― South Korea and Vietnam reached a free trade agreement on Wednesday, paving the way for a deepened bilateral strategic partnership, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The announcement came as President Park Geun-hye held bilateral talks with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang who came to Busan to attend the two-day special summit between South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Vietnam would become South Korea's 15th country to clinch a free trade deal.
The two sides have held nine rounds of tough talks since August 2012. They had struggled to narrow their gaps over a series of issues ― particularly fishery products ― during the ninth round that continued until earlier this week.
During their talks in October, President Park and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong agreed to conclude the bilateral FTA by the end of this year.
Vietnam with a population of about 94 million is South Korea's ninth largest trading partner and fourth largest investment destination. Among ASEAN nations, Vietnam is South Korea's largest investment destination and second largest trading partner.
South Korea's volume of exports to Vietnam tripped to $21.8 billion last year from $7.16 billion recorded in 2009.
Vietnam has been emerging as an attractive trade partner as it has decided to join both the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The RCEP is a mooted free trade deal involving 16 nations including China, while the TPP is a proposed free trade pact linking the Pacific Rim states including the US The two deals have taken political overtones as China is seen leading the RCEP while the US is boosting efforts to initiate the TPP.