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South Korea set to start free trade talks with EU

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(SEOUL) - South Korea will soon start talks with the European Union for a similar free trade agreement that it recently struck with the United States, top officials said here Wednesday.

"The government plans to push for more free trade agreements," Trade Minister Kim Hyun-Chong told parliament. "We will soon start negotiations with the EU."

He said South Korea would also consider launching free trade talks with China after a joint study by Seoul and Beijing on costs and benefits of a bilateral free trade deal that began last month is completed in December.

Minister of Finance and Economy Kwon O-Kyu also told journalists that Seoul would push to strike a free trade agreement with China after it wraps up negotiations with the EU.

"South Korea cannot go against the tide of free trade amid intensifying global competition," Kwon was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

"Since it has sealed an FTA with the US, it is crucial for South Korea to sign such a deal with China."

The United States and South Korea on Monday reached a free trade agreement which scraps tariffs on thousands of items and will boost commerce by billions of dollars a year, wrapping up 10 months of tough negotiations.

South Korea and the EU reportedly plan to launch talks in early May on forging the trade deal by the year's end.

The two-way trade volume of the EU and South Korea reached 71 billion dollars last year as that of South Korea and the US stood at 74 billion dollars in 2006.

China has emerged South Korea's largest trading partner, with the 2006 bilateral trade volume reaching 118 billion dollars.

State-financed Korea Institute for International Economic Policy has said South Korea could create up to 300,000 new jobs in the short term if it signs a free trade agreement with the EU.

A deal with the EU would also likely allow South Korea to expand its gross domestic product by 2.02 percent in the short term, it said.

Asia's fourth-largest economy and the EU have already held preliminary talks in Brussels.

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