Park wants progress in talks for TPP membership, FTA with China

SEJONG, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye Friday said she is seeking progress this year in talks for a free trade deal with China as well as South Korea's full membership in a 12-nation regional free trade bloc to help boost its export-driven economy struggling with the global economic slump.

"This year we plan to work to make substantial progress in negotiating free-trade agreements with China, Indonesia and Vietnam," Park said in an interview with Bloomberg. "We also hope to be able to smoothly move forward with our consultations with the TPP members so we can actually realize Korea's formal participation in the TPP."

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a key part of Washington's efforts to boost its economic presence and growth in the Asia-Pacific region, and is also seen as a U.S. counter to rising China.

South Korea expressed its interest in joining the TPP negotiations on Nov. 29. It has already held bilateral talks with Australia and Canada to check conditions for joining the talks. The negotiations currently involve 12 countries, including Brunei, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam.

South Korea plans to hold a series of preliminary bilateral talks on joining the ongoing negotiations for the U.S.-led regional trade deal, a spokesman for the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said earlier in the day.

Choi Kyong-lim, deputy trade minister, will embark on a four-nation trip on Monday to the United States, Mexico, Chile and Peru, in that order, the spokesman said.

Assistant Trade Minister Woo Tae-hee will also visit Malaysia and Singapore from Jan. 21 to hold bilateral talks on South Korea's participation in TPP negotiations.

Park also told Bloomberg that she did not think the Bank of Korea will directly interfere in the rising won's value, which weakens the competitiveness of South Korean products abroad.

"Taking direct measures is something we ruled out," she said.

According to a transcript of the interview released by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, Park said, however, "We need to make efforts to overcome these difficulties in an indirect manner in consideration of our competitiveness in exports and other things."

South Korea's currency, the won, recently reached a five-year high amid the U.S. and Japanese governments resorting to quantitative easing to help revive their sagging economies.

Park meant the South Korean government has not ruled out the possibility of conducting a "smoothing operation" to curve a sharp rise in the won's value, although Seoul has no intention of manipulating the currency market, a senior aid to Park said.

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