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Trade

Moon raises prospect of South Korea joining TPP trade pact

President looks to strike balance after RCEP deal with China

SEOUL -- South Korea will consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, President Moon Jae-in said in a speech Tuesday, just weeks after his country signed a deal to create a massive China-led trade bloc.

The government "will continue to review" membership in the 11-nation TPP, Moon said during the annual Trade Day address. Local media say this was the first time that Moon mentioned the multilateral pact, which includes Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

South Korea considered becoming a TPP member in 2013. But Park Geun-hye, the president at the time, prioritized strengthening relations with Beijing. The two sides shook hands on a free trade agreement in 2014, and South Korea joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank the next year.

South Korea missed out on becoming a founding member of the TPP due to China's running interference against associating with what then was shaping up to be a U.S.-led trading bloc.

President Donald Trump later pulled the U.S. out of the TPP, and the remaining nations formed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which went into force in 2018.

Last month, South Korea and 14 other Asia-Pacific nations signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world's largest free trade deal. Because fellow signatory China boasts the biggest economy within the RCEP, Seoul left a stronger impression that it is cozying up to Beijing on the trade front.

By showing interest in other large free trade deals such as the TPP, Moon appears to be seeking a diplomatic balance between China and the U.S.

"Starting with RCEP, we will finalize FTA negotiations for Indonesia and Israel by the end of this year, and accelerate FTA negotiations for India, the Philippines, Cambodia and Uzbekistan," Moon said.

The South Korean president noted ongoing free trade talks with China and Russia that will lower barriers in the service and investment sectors.

"We will expand the export of South Korean content as well as the safeguarding of intellectual property," Moon said.

During the speech, Moon pledged to expedite negotiations with Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

"We will draw closer to the massive Latin American market," he said.

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