(LEAD) S. Korea, China agree to cooperate to make progress in FTA talksBEIJING, May 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed Sunday to actively work together to make progress in negotiations to forge a free trade agreement between the two countries, the presidential office said.
Lee and Wen reached the agreement during a one-on-one meeting held on the sidelines of annual three-way summit talks with Japan, sharing an understanding that the envisioned pact would serve as an institutional framework to upgrade their economic ties in terms of quality beyond quantity.
They also agreed to handle sensitive areas "carefully and wisely" in upcoming free trade negotiations so as to maximize economic benefits that such an agreement would bring to the peoples of the two countries, the presidential office said in a statement.
In an interview with China's CCTV broadcast Sunday, Lee said that he believes Seoul and Beijing can conclude free trade talks in two years if compromise is reached on "sensitive" items, such as agricultural and fishery products for South Korea.
China is South Korea's No. 1 trading partner with last year's trade volume amounting to $220 billion. That is more than double the trade volume, US$101 billion, South Korea had with its second largest trading partner, the United States, last year.
The explosive growth in South Korea-China trade is seen as a remarkable feat for nations that forged diplomatic relations only 20 years ago.
"The two sides agreed to achieve the 2015 goal of $300 billion in trade at an early date, make active efforts to help businesses of the two countries expand investment in each other's nation and strengthen cooperation in future growth industries, such as energy and green growth, and in the financial sector," the presidential office said in a statement.
On North Korea, the two sides said they appreciated the U.N. Security Council's strong and swift statement regarding North Korea's long-range rocket launch last month and agreed North Korea should not carry out a nuclear test or other provocations, the statement said.
The sides also agreed to cooperate closely to conclude a social insurance treaty at an early date that would lessen the economic burden for people working in each other's nation. The sides also agreed to deepen cooperation in other areas, such as security and defense, culture and people-to-people exchanges.
Lee said he hopes Chinese citizens will enjoy the World Expo, which opened in the South Korean port city of Yeosu on Saturday for a 93-day run, so the event can be a chance to promote friendship between the two countries.
Wen promised to cooperate with South Korea for the expo's success, the statement said.