China, S Korea and Japan set to begin free trade talks
- 14 May 2012
- From the section Business
Chinese President Hu Jintao has met the leaders of South Korea and Japan, as the three countries agreed to begin negotiations on a free-trade pact.
The leaders were meeting in Beijing for two days of trilateral talks.
Although tensions with North Korea were discussed on Sunday, there was no mention of it in a joint statement issued on Monday.
China is the biggest trading partner of both Japan and South Korea.
The three leaders also signed a trilateral investment agreement, which is seen as a stepping stone to a free-trade zone.
However as with other free-trade agreements between countries, this one could still face long negotiations and trade barriers, observers say.
The agreement on free trade talks was reached on Sunday.
"The establishment of a free-trade area will unleash the economic vitality of our region and give a strong boost to economic integration in East Asia," said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
He also said the pact would help the nations at a time of rising trade protectionism.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said economic co-operation was essential to maintaining the Asia-Pacific region as the growth centre of the world economy.
Trade between the three countries reached $690bn in 2011, up from only $130bn in 1999, according to a Chinese government report.
The leaders also agreed on Sunday to work together to ease regional disputes and tensions, specifically on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea conducted a failed rocket launch last month and there are fears it is preparing another nuclear test.
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak said the nations would not accept "further nuclear tests or further provocation" from North Korea.
"What is most urgent (for us) now is to make all-out efforts to prevent the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula," Mr Wen Jiabao said at a joint news conference.
But a joint declaration issued after the talks made no mention of North Korea.