South Korea Announces Intent to Join Regional Free Trade Pact

South Korea says it will formally apply to join a regional free trade agreement in an effort to boost trade and expand its presence in the global economy.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Monday that Seoul has begun the process to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It was formed in 2018 as a successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated during the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama in an effort to blunt China’s growing economic clout in the region. His successor, Donald Trump, withdrew the U.S. from the TPP shortly after taking office in 2017.

Signatories to the CPTPP include Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.

South Korea’s change of heart comes three months after Beijing applied to join the 11-nation regional trade pact, with Taiwan following suit just days later. Seoul is also planning to join the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECEP), a Beijing-led free trade agreement that includes Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Philippines. 

South Korea has been reluctant to join multi-nation free trade agreements because of opposition by the country’s agricultural sector due to fear of foreign competition. 


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