(LEAD) Lee: FTA between S. Korea, China, Japan to contribute to world economyBEIJING, May 13 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said Sunday he believes an ambitious free trade pact between South Korea, China and Japan, if realized, could significantly contribute to the world economy and global free trade efforts.
During annual summit talks in Beijing earlier Sunday, Lee, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda agreed to launch official negotiations this year toward a three-way free trade agreement.
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.
"If the three countries can realize an FTA, it can have strong effects on the global willingness for free trade. An FTA between the three countries can play a positive role in the world economy," Lee said during a meeting with business leaders from South Korea, China and Japan.
Lee said he has long advocated for free trade and called Sunday's accord a "big step forward."
Lee has aggressively sought free trade agreements with other countries, saying such deals will expand the country's "economic territory." South Korea now has FTAs with 45 partners, including the United States and the European Union, he said.
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 between each other.
The pact represents the first economic treaty between the three countries.
Lee said the treaty will facilitate the three countries' investment in each other.
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.