Lee touts S. Korea as 'free trade hub,' calls for more investment from China, JapanBEIJING, May 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called Sunday for Chinese and Japanese leaders to expand their investment in his country, touting the nation as a "free trade hub" interlinked with other large markets by a network of free trade agreements.
Lee made the remark during a meeting with business leaders from South Korea, China and Japan held on the sidelines of annual summit talks between the three Northeast Asian powers. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also attended the meeting.
"South Korea has become a free trade hub connected with markets that account for 61 percent of the global gross domestic product after forging FTAs (free trade agreements) with 45 nations, including the United States and the European Union," Lee said at the meeting.
"I hope Chinese and Japanese businesses will invest in the further expanded South Korean economy like this with greater interest," he said.
During summit talks earlier in the day, Lee agreed with the Chinese and Japanese leaders to start preparations to launch official negotiations on a free trade agreement between the three major Asian economies before the end of the year.
The envisioned pact, if realized, would create one of the world's largest markets as South Korea, China and Japan account for 20 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), 17.5 percent of all global trade, and 22 percent of the global population.
South Korea and China have declared the launch of separate negotiations on a bilateral free trade pact. In an interview with China's CCTV, Lee said he believes the two countries can conclude FTA talks in two years if compromise is reached on "sensitive" items, such as agricultural and fishery products.
On the sidelines of Sunday's summit, the three countries also signed an investment guarantee treaty that calls for providing most-favored-nation status and other protective measures for investment from each other. The pact is the first economic treaty between the three countries.
During the speech before business leaders, Lee also called for expanding free trade and international cooperation so as to overcome global economic difficulties caused by the eurozone fiscal crisis. The 2008 global financial turmoil was overcome in the same manner, he said.
Lee also asked Chinese and Japanese business people to visit the World Expo that opened in the South Korean port city of Yeosu for a 93-day run to highlight the important role the ocean and coast play in everyday lives and the need to live in harmony with the world's marine environment.