South Korea, Russia to begin preparations for FTA negotiations: Moon

Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet in the Kremlin in Moscow on June 22, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet in the Kremlin in Moscow on June 22, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Friday (June 22) announced a plan to launch negotiations for South Korea's first free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia, calling for joint efforts to boost the two countries' bilateral trade to over US$30 billion by 2020.

During a business forum in Moscow, Moon said he would agree with Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin domestic processes aimed at launching FTA negotiations related to the service and investment sector.

The South Korean president said that he expects the FTA to encompass agreements on goods as well, urging the two countries to reach a "comprehensive, mutually-beneficial" agreement as soon as possible.

"I think South Korea-Russia FTA will be a starting point" for achieving the goal of reaching US$30 billion in trade and 1 million in the number of visitors between South Korea and Russia by 2020," said Moon.

The initiative is part of Moon's efforts to boost economic ties with Russia, which the president has emphasized during his three-day state-visit to Russia, which included a summit with Mr Putin and a historic address to Russian lawmakers.

After arriving in Moscow earlier Thursday, Moon was set to hold a summit with Putin on Friday to discuss ways to improve trilateral economic cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia amid a detente on the Korean Peninsula.

There was one project that the South Korean president stressed during his meetings with Russian political leaders and policymakers: Extending the Trans-Siberian railway all the way through North Korean territory to the port city of Busan on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

"Among the trilateral cooperation on the railway, electricity, and energy, connecting railways (between Russia and the two Koreas) appears to be most likely," said Moon during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.

Moon noted there is "a lot in common" between the South Korean government's Northern Policy and the Russian government's New East Policy, as both aim to develop their respective cross-border regions with North Korea.

Medvedev agreed that that the prospect of trilateral cooperation is rising as North Korea and the US are improving their ties following the historic summit in Singapore on June 12, according to South Korea's presidential office.

The Russian prime minister also showed "great interest" in connecting electricity networks across the region and enhancing cooperation on developing natural gas in Russia, presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said.

Mr Moon's meeting with Medvedev followed Moon's speech at the Russian parliament in Moscow, during which he laid out his vision of enhancing trilateral cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia and connecting the Trans-Siberian Railway with the South Korean port city of Busan.

Moon also stressed that such trilateral cooperation would help establish an economic community in Northeast Asia.

If the two Koreas replace the current armistice agreement with a peace treaty, the Northeast Asia region will be able to establish its own "collective security system," he added.

"I have always hoped for permanent peace and common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and Eurasia. I'm hoping the Russian lawmakers will join that journey," Moon said in a speech delivered at Russia's State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

"Through permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, I'm hoping that the Trans-Siberian Railway will extend all the way to the southern port city of Busan, where I grew up. I hope you will join our efforts to open up new possibilities and common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula."

The president's trip to Russia followed his two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the truce border village of Panmunjeom, where the two leaders declared there would never be another war on the Korean Peninsula, while Kim also agreed to denuclearise his country.