SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korea became the latest nation to express interest in joining an Asia-Pacific trade deal, with the trade minister saying the government is "seriously and actively considering" the issue.
South Korea's overture comes after China and Taiwan submitted formal requests in recent weeks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, a free-trade pact between 11 countries around the Pacific Rim.
The application from its Asian neighbors has created a sense of urgency in Seoul that they shouldn't be left out of a deal that looks set to grow. Korea has so far said it's reviewing joining the pact, but fell short of offering a timeline for its formal application.
"I think Korea is more than ready and prepared to enter into CPTPP than any other country right now," Trade Minister Yeo Han-koo said in an interview with Bloomberg in Geneva, noting the government has been making "step by step" preparations to join the deal for the past few years.
Mr Yeo said he didn't know whether China will be able to meet the high standards required to join, and instead emphasized the benefits his own country could offer.
Korea is a "technological and trade powerhouse in the region" and its participation could "revitalize the CPTPP into a more inclusive, comprehensive and transparent" agreement, Mr Yeo said.
Applications from both China and Taiwan to join the deal initially designed by the US to sideline Beijing have left CPTPP members scrambling to calculate the benefits, or risks, of accepting both or just one into the pact. The development has also stirred renewed interest in the deal at a time when supply chain disruptions are raising the importance of close trade relations.
With an annual GDP of US$1.64 trillion(S$2.23 trillion), Korea would be the third-largest economy to join the US$13.5 trillion trade pact after Japan and Canada. The UK applied to join earlier this year.
Mr Yeo declined to say when the government will submit a request, but said the government has been making necessary changes to domestic regulations. "I think we are ready."